Chinese-Americans, decrying the suicide of a private who allegedly was hazed because of his ethnicity, left New York on Monday to attend the North Carolina court martial for one of eight soldiers charged in the case.
About a dozen supporters of Pvt. Danny Chen's family held a news conference in Manhattan. The group included community members, elected officials, and others who are making a documentary on the case. Chen's parents and other relatives left for North Carolina on Sunday.
Military officials have said Chen killed himself in Afghanistan after weeks of physical and emotional abuse.
"I was really, really angry" to learn about it, said Vassar College student Julia Chung, one of the family's supporters.
Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a New York development group, said the case could have "profound implications," not only for Chinese-Americans, but for all military members.
"There is something wrong with the system," said Chen, no relation to the family.
The court martial for Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, starts Tuesday at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He faces nearly 18 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Chen, 19, shot himself in a guardhouse Oct. 3. He was called names while in training, then was subjected to hazing after he was deployed to Afghanistan, his family has said. On the day of Chen's death, he was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers threw rocks at him, his family has said.
Holcomb is the first of the soldiers charged in Chen's death to go on trial. He faces a negligent homicide charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years, and a host of other charges. If convicted of all the charges, he could face up to about 18 years in prison.
Four other men face the negligent homicide charge, the most severe in this case, and the judge's decision in Holcomb's trial could be an indicator for the other soldiers.
Chen was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, but was under the command of a Fort Bragg general in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. James Huggins requested the trial be transferred to Fort Bragg — which military officials said worked out better logistically. Chen's family had also lobbied for the trials to be held stateside.
Chen was born and raised in Manhattan. He enlisted after high school and had only been in Afghanistan for two months before he died. Chen told his family, and wrote in his journal, about the alleged abuse.
His family recently celebrated Chen's life on what would have been his 20th birthday.
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