By Avi Selk and Alex Horton, The Washington Post
A U.S. Army soldier killed his wife and a New York state trooper outside the infantryman’s home near Fort Drum on Sunday night, according to police.
Justin Dean Walters, a staff sergeant who served 10 years in the Army, lived with his wife off a county road in Theresa, N.Y. — not far from the Canadian border, and minutes from the base where he was stationed after two tours in Afghanistan.
Someone called 911 from the residence about 8 p.m., police said, and said shots were fired.
About 20 minutes later, New York State Police Trooper Joel Davis pulled up and parked about 75 feet from the house. He was the first of several officers dispatched to the scene.
Davis was well known in the community, State Police Superintendent George Beach later told reporters.
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He had served nearly a decade with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office before becoming a state trooper four years ago, had three kids and helped run a youth baseball league.
“In these communities, our state troopers are literally our protectors,” Beach said at a news conference Monday, as he explained how Davis died.
After getting out of his vehicle, Beach said, the trooper radioed that someone was firing a gun.
With a bulletproof vest on and backup troopers minutes away, he left his vehicle and walked toward the home.
Before he reached it, a police report says, Davis encountered Walters in the driveway, holding a rifle.
It’s unknown what, if anything, transpired between the two men.
Walters shot Davis once in the chest, police said. The round hit his vest from the side and somehow got past the protective plate, and he fell.
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A second trooper arrived no more than three minutes later.
He didn’t see Davis anywhere outside, the superintendent said. But he saw Walters in the driveway, and heard gunfire.
With his own weapon drawn, the trooper stepped out of his vehicle. He spotted Davis then, dead or dying in a ditch.
But there was no more bloodshed that night. Walters raised his hands and surrendered, Beach said.
More troopers came. They found 27-year-old Nichole Walters lying dead in the driveway, shot multiple times.
Another woman — a friend of Nichole’s, Beach said — had been shot on the same property, but would recover.
Davis would die at a hospital, less than an hour after he arrived at Walters’s home.
A toddler in the Walters’s home was taken by child protective services, according to the Watertown Daily Times.
Beach said investigators seized “a number of weapons,” and didn’t know which one had killed Davis or Nichole Walters.
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The soldier was charged with two counts of murder — first-degree for the officer, and second-degree for his wife.
Spectrum News showed troopers leading the infantryman, shirtless and shoeless, into LeRay Town Court.
But his arraignment had to be delayed after Walters failed to answer the judge’s questions.
“I’m not asking you whether or not you’re guilty of this charge,” the judge tells Walters in Spectrum’s footage from the courtroom. “I’m simply asking you whether or not you understand why you’re here.”
“I do not, sir,” Walters replied.
He had no lawyer, according to the court.
The soldier and his wife
Nichole Walters met her husband around the time she graduated from high school in New York, a friend told the Associated Press.
The friend said she was raising a little boy with her husband.
Military records show Walters enlisted in the Army in 2007 at age 23. He served two year-long tours in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012, during which medals indicate he probably saw combat.
Now 32, he is a staff sergeant stationed at Fort Drum. Noncommissioned officers with his rank typically oversee a squad of fewer than a dozen soldiers in an infantry unit.
A study by the Rand Corp. estimated that 18.5 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of post-traumatic stress or major depression.
But the Department of Veterans Affairs has said there is no causal link between post-traumatic stress and homicide. And it was not clear whether Walters had any mental health issues from his two Afghanistan combat deployments.
Beach said his investigators were talking to base officials about Walters’s history, trying to find out whether he had mental issues — but “I don’t know that conclusively.”
The fallen trooper
Davis, 36, hailed from Evans Mills, N.Y. He left behind a wife and three children — ages 18, 17 and 13, according to the police superintendent.
After nearly 10 years with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Davis joined the troopers in 2013. He was assigned first to Watertown, then to Philadelphia — both towns in the same county.
Reached by phone, Davis’s wife said the family wasn’t yet ready to talk about him in public.
“He was a good husband and father,” Beach told reporters in Watertown on Monday afternoon.
“This will be our fourth member who has suffered fatal injuries or died from a 9-11 related illness in the last year.”
“This has a terrible effect on everybody,” the superintendent added.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued his own sympathies, and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff, beginning Wednesday and until Davis is buried.
Editor’s note: Our condolences to the NYSP. May Trooper Davis rest in peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and the family of Nichole Walters.