The parents of Pvt. Danny Chen told NBC New York they were told by Army officials that their son was racially taunted and dragged from his bed and beaten by six superior officers because he forgot to turn off the hot water heater.
"My heart was broken after I heard that," said his mother, Su Zhen Chen. "If my son died in the line of duty, of course I would have to accept that, but to hear he may have died at the base, it's too much for me to accept."
The cause of Danny Chen's death was not clear.
Representatives from the U.S. Army visited the Chens' home Tuesday evening to discuss their son's funeral. A spokesman from the Army Criminal Investigation Command said in a statement, "Aside from determining the actual cause and manner of Chen's death, our investigation will also determine the circumstances leading up to his death."
It was only after Chen's death that his parents learned about the alleged attacks. They said Chen told them very little about what happened in Afghanistan, but always seemed happy and never showed signs of being troubled.
"My son tried to tell me, 'This is top secret info, Mom,'" said his mother. "'But I'm very well here. Just send over some goodies I want to eat.'"
His father, Yan Tao Chen, said he asked his son, "Danny, does anyone pick on you because you are a little different?"
Yan Tao Chen said his son replied, very casually, "Of course people do that a little, but it's nothing. Nothing to worry about."
Chen was the only child of Chinese immigrants. His father worked long hours as a restaurant worker and his mother made hair ornaments from home. His family told NBC New York it was his dream to become a soldier, and eventually, an officer of the New York Police Department.
Chen's family insists he was a happy person who socialized with just about everyone at school and in his diverse neighborhood. They refuse to believe he could have taken his own life.
"The Army told me he died from a gunshot that went from his chin through the back of his head. They said this could be a murder or a suicide," said his father. "But he absolutely did not take his own life. He would never have done that. Danny was happy to be in the military and was looking forward to coming home."
Chen was supposed to be laid to rest at the Wah Wing Sang Funeral Home in Chinatown this past Sunday but his body was not flown back in time. His funeral has been rescheduled for Thursday.
Follow Pei-Sze Cheng on Twitter @PeiSzeCheng4NY