A soldier involved in a high-speed chase with Georgia State Police has died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the military says.
A news release from Fort Campbell says Spc. Rico L. Rawls Jr., 22, died around 2 p.m. Monday. Rawls Jr. was wanted by military police in connection with the shooting death of his wife, Jessica T. Rawls, of South Bend.
The mother of three was found dead Friday evening at the couple’s home within the military installation, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. Military police say they were led to the home following a domestic dispute call.
"I got onto Facebook and saw posts about her passing and I just kind of lost it,” Rawls’ longtime friend JaNetta Jenner said.
Jenner met Rawls as a fourth grade student at Kennedy Elementary School on South Bend’s west side.
"I came to Kennedy with no friends and she was the first person that I became friends with. If you ever had a problem she was there, she was really my best friend,” Jenner added.
Rawls moved to Florida in middle school, only to return to South Bend in the late 1990s. Reunited as freshman, Rawls and Jenner played basketball and softball together at LaSalle High School until graduating in 2002.
"It's heartbreaking because we won't be able to build future memories. At least I'll always have the memories of walking down the hall, going to school with her and just growing up together,” Jenner commented.
Police said Rawls Jr. shot himself following the police chase which started near Chattanooga, Tenn. Georgia authorities said the suspect reached speeds of up to 120 mph before being forced to stop just before 3 a.m. near Lake Allatoona, Ga. Rawls Jr. was taken to an area hospital in critical condition.
In a media statement the U.S. Army said Rawls Jr. was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group where he worked as an information systems operator/analyst. He had been at Fort Campbell since January 2010 and was deployed to Iraq twice; most recently returning in Nov. 2011.
In a written statement released to NewsCenter 16, Jessica Rawls’ mother Dawn Williams said, “My son-in-law Rico came back from Iraq a different person. We asked, pleaded and begged for help for him, but no one listened. I pray that someone will listen now. The pre-Iraq Rico Rawls would not have done this. Someone needs to listen and act or this will continue to happen.”
NewsCenter 16 asked the U.S. Army if it neglected to give Rawls Jr. proper psychiatric treatment following his latest deployment. Although the military would not comment on his personnel file, a spokeswoman did say the Army takes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues very seriously with specialized programs implemented on most bases, including Fort Campbell.
Both deaths remain under investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.
The Associated Press contributed to this reported