FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- About an hour before Fort Bragg Spc. Ricky G. Elder fatally shot his commander and then himself last Thursday, he posted a chilling final message on Facebook:
"My mind in the past couple of years has folded on itself. I just went to the Dr. and they said I just tested positive for Dementia."
The post is time stamped 2:29 p.m. June 28. Fort Bragg officials say that about 3:30 p.m. that day, the 27-year-old Elder fatally shot his commander, Lt. Col. Roy L. Tisdale, and then turned the gun on himself during a safety briefing at Fort Bragg.
Elder died Saturday at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. A third soldier, 22-year-old Spc. Michael E. Latham, suffered minor wounds. All three soldiers were members of the 525th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
In the same Facebook post, Elder expresses bitterness at an impending court-martial on charges of stealing a toolkit.
"So one week before I was supposed to get out I was charged with these damn tools," the post reads. "So instead of a ($)20,000 severance I get to loose all the benefits and everything I've worked so hard for."
The post indicates that two other soldiers were much more involved in the case of the stolen toolkit.
Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum confirmed that others have been charged in the case, but he said that he did not have their names or ranks and that the officials who did were on leave for the holiday.
"We are aware of these postings and please remember, just because he posted something does not make it true," McCollum said in an email.
A friend who served with Elder at Fort Benning, Ga., allowed a reporter to see Elder's private Facebook page. The friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he did so because he wants people to know what happened to Elder in war and because he questions Fort Bragg's decision to allow him to deploy to Afghanistan knowing he suffered from mental health problems.
"I don't want him to be portrayed as this rogue, cold killer," the friend said.
The day of the shootings, Elder also posted medical records from 2007 that describe him being in an explosion while riding as a gunner in a Humvee in Iraq.
According to the records, Elder was ejected from the Humvee, hit his head and suffered a concussion. A friend who was with him died in the explosion.
The records indicate that a CT scan of Elder's brain revealed no major medical problems.
The records show an initial diagnosis of "unspecified neurotic disorder."
A narrative summary in the records describes Elder being escorted to the morgue after demanding to see the friend who was killed in the explosion: "Patient crying heavily, Heard saying in heavy tears, 'I don't want to live anymore.' "
After being returned to his room, the narrative says, Elder punched a window so hard that he broke the bulletproof glass.
The friend said he understands Fort Bragg's desire to mourn and honor Tisdale, the colonel who Elder killed.
But he said Elder was "a war hero, too," and officials at Fort Bragg "don't make any effort to let that be known."
"I'm not saying what he did was right," the friend said, "but there was an absolute reason for what he did. Everyone knew he had TBI."
He said Elder told people he had traumatic brain injury, which is caused by one or more significant blows to the head and is sometimes characterized by depression, anxiousness and mood swings.
Another friend who served with Elder at Fort Benning, former soldier Chris Cook, said Elder was extremely proud of his military awards.
"He was a troubled soul, obviously," Cook said, "but I think it's wrong that people are going to make him out as a monster. That's not who he was. It's from the (expletive) war.
"He was a hell of a soldier. He did a lot for his country, a lot that nobody will ever see. It's tragic and it's sad."
Elder, who has a wife and two children, was stationed in Alaska when he was deployed to Iraq and got injured. He transferred to Fort Benning around 2008.
The friend who asked not to be named said he saw no outward signs that Elder suffered from PTSD, TBI or any other mental problems. Although the two served at Fort Benning together in a nondeployable unit, the friend said he would have trusted Elder with his life in battle.
He said he kept in contact with Elder after he left for Fort Bragg.
"They just let him spiral out of control," he said.
In May 2010, the month before Elder was assigned to Fort Bragg, he was charged with punching a woman in the face at a bar in Hutchinson, Kan., his hometown.
Despite the charges, a judge in Reno County District Court allowed Elder's case to be continued so he could deploy to Afghanistan in September 2010. Elder accepted a plea agreement shortly after returning home and was to be sentenced to probation a day after the shootings occurred.
That same day, Elder was scheduled to be in Cumberland County District Court on charges filed May 14 of reckless driving to endanger. Court records show that Elder also had been charged in June 2010 with failure to stop at a red light and no operators license. Those charges were dismissed.
McCollum, the Fort Bragg spokesman, said he would try to verify whether Elder's command was aware of the charges against him in Kansas before he was allowed to deploy.
The Army has acknowledged that it isn't always notified when a soldier commits a civilian crime.