Pvt. Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower in Afghanistan on Oct. 3 with what the Army described as an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Chen was just 19-years-old. He was from Chinatown, New York City, and dreamed of one day becoming a police officer.
But those dreams have been shattered.
Chen killed himself after being subjected to bullying and taunting at the hands of his fellow soldiers. Most of the abuse was ethnically-charged.
The soldiers, both peers and superiors, called Chen Jackie Chen in a verifiably bigoted accent. He was pulled out of bed, dragged across the floor, had stones thrown at the back of his head and was forced to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water -- all because he forget to turn off the water heater.
They constantly taunted him with racial slurs and comments about his ethnicity. All of this was apparently part of a hazing ritual, said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
The bullying became too much for Chen, bullying he described in letters to his family. His cousin Banny Chen read one such letter, sent by Private Chen in February, at a vigil last Thursday. The letter said: Everyone knows me by Chen.
They ask if I'm from China a few times a day, he wrote. They also call out my name Chen in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason.
People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time. I'm running out of jokes to come back at them. Chen did not understand why he was the one chosen to bear the brunt of such abuse.
Eight men have been charged, ranging from charges as serious as manslaughter and negligent homicide. Based on this judgment, reports The New York Times, military prosecutors clearly believed the soldiers' actions led to Chen's suicide.
They did it because they knew that there was an environment that they would get away with it, an OCA spokesman said, reported NBC New York.
First Lieutenant Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sergeant Blaine G. Dugas and Staff Sergeant Andrew J. Van Bockel were each charged.
Sergeant Adam M. Holcomb, Sergeant Jeffrey T. Hurst, Specialist Thomas P. Curtis, Specialist Ryan J. Offutt and Sergeant Travis F. Carden were also charged.
The case ignited outrage and fury in the Asian American community in New York City. Around 400 people attended the vigil in his honor.
Chen's family commented on the charges. We realize that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope, said Yen Tao Chen, his father, speaking through a translator.
It's of some comfort and relief to learn that the Army has taken this seriously, Private Chen's mother, Su Zhen Chen, said through an interpreter. Danny was their only child.
Community activists said the Army has not yet fully explained the circumstances of Chen's death. They will meet with Pentagon officials on Jan. 4.
This is not the first bullying-related death that has occurred in the military. In October, several Marines were court-martialed for their roles in the death of an Asian-American Marine, Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, from California. Lew committed suicide in April in Afghanistan after he was subjected to what military prosecutors determined as hazing.
I didn't think the case would move this fast, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, told The NY Times. He cited a Chinese aphorism, You cannot wrap a fire with paper: the truth will come out.
We are cautiously optimistic about today's news, he said, adding that authorities have to create an atmosphere in which Asian-Americans feel safe.