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Manhattan Soldier Killed in Afghanistan Was Reportedly Abused Before Death

By Patrick Hedlund | October 12, 2011 2:57pm | Updated on October 12, 2011 4:31pm
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011.
Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of Manhattan, died in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011.
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U.S. Military

MANHATTAN — The U.S. Army's criminal investigations unit is probing the death of a soldier from Manhattan who was killed in Afghanistan early this month.

Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who grew up in Chinatown and went to school on the Lower East Side, died on Oct. 3 in Kandahar Province, the military said last week.

Chen’s parents reportedly said military personnel informed them that their son had been subjected to harassment and physical abuse by fellow soldiers and may have committed suicide. Reports indicate that Chen died from a gunshot wound to the head.

A spokesman for the U.S. Criminal Investigations Command said that an investigation into the incident is ongoing, but did not provide specifics regarding the circumstances or cause of death.

"I can tell you that aside from determining the actual cause and manner of Pvt. Chen's death, our investigation will also determine the circumstances leading up to his death. Any discussion of possible contributing factors would be premature at this point," said Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the command.

Family spokesman Frank Gee, who has acted as a translator between the military and Chen’s parents, also could not speak to any possible criminality involved.

He said Chen was the only child of parents who currently live in public housing on Avenue D, and that he grew up on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown. 

“Of course it’s a shock — it’s their only son,” Gee said. “They were devastated.”

Chen had problems with his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, who at one point dragged him out of bed and beat him, according to reports. NBC reported that six of his superior officers beat him for forgetting to turn off a hot water heater.

“It’s quite a traumatic event, especially for a Chinese family,” Gee added.

Grey said that Chen's body was found in a guard tower, not a sleeping facility, and noted that his office investigates all non-combat-related deaths of soldiers that occur at U.S. military bases.

"We investigate all deaths as if they were homicides to ensure we collect all the information, evidence etc.," he said. "That is not to say that a crime occurred, but the evidence will reveal that."

Friends said Chen was an honor student at Pace High School on Hester Street, and that he decided to join the military out of a desire to serve his country. He planned to become a police officer after the army, they added.

"He was always about being a soldier, being a warrior," said Justin Lum, 20, one of his best friends in high school, who spoke to the soldier online only days before his death.

He noted that Chen commented on the fact that he was the only Asian American in his outfit.

“I do remember that he said something about being the only Asian guy there so he does feel sometimes like an outcast a little bit,” said Lum, who lives Chinatown.

He explained that Chen was very well liked in school and didn’t have run-ins with anybody, adding that “no one picked on him.”

However, Lum said he didn’t believe the solider could have committed suicide, and that Chen always handled anything that came his way without complaint.

“He was always such a cool guy,” Lum said. “I just don’t understand how this really could have happened.”

Chen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered flags flown at half-mast last week in his honor.

"On behalf of all New Yorkers, I send my profound sympathies to the family, friends, and fellow soldiers of Private Chen," Cuomo said. "We will remember the service and mourn the loss of this New York soldier."

Chen’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday at the Wah Wing Sang funeral home on Mulberry Street.