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First Trial in Army Pvt. Danny Chen's Alleged Bullying Death Set to Begin

MANHATTAN — The first of eight military trials for the soldiers accused of taunting and hazing Chinatown native Pvt. Danny Chen before his apparent suicide in Afghanistan last year is set to begin this week.

Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, who will be tried at the Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina, has been charged with negligent homicide for allegedly using racial taunts and bullying Chen in the months leading up to his death.

Chen, 19, was found dead Oct. 3, 2011, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his base in the Kandahar Province.

The charges against Holcomb accuse him of using numerous racial slurs, as well as pulling Chen from his bed and dragging him by his wrist over a gravel path, according to military officials.

A contingency of Chen's family and supporters left New York on Monday morning from Columbus Park in Chinatown to be present at the first court-martial, which military officials said is expected to end by July 27. His parents, father Yan Tao Chen and mother Su Zhen Chen, flew to Fort Bragg on Sunday for the trials.

"The outcome of these trials will either recognize or turn a blind eye to the failure of leadership to prevent or stop Danny Chen's death," said Liz OuYang, from the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, which has led the charge in advocating on Chen's behalf.

A handful of other community leaders such as Wellington Chen from the Chinatown Partnership, joined family members like Xhan Qiu Chen, Chen's uncle, and Vietnam war veteran Tom Lee, in the trip to North Carolina.

"He wanted to serve his country," Chen's uncle said. "But something happened to Danny."

He labeled the alleged bullying as "unfair abuse" and demanded a fair trial so "that others can fight and serve" in the Army without facing similar treatment.

Four other soldiers  — Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis and Spc. Ryan J. Offutt — face similar charges.

First Lt. Daniel L. Schwartz and Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas have been charged with dereliction of duty for allegedly failing to prevent the hazing.

All the trials are set to occur from now through October, according to a public affairs specialist at the base.

Chen was the only child his parents. They have joined with local elected officials and community leaders to raise awareness about the case since his death.

"It is important for Danny’s family, the Chinatown community and all of New York City that justice be delivered in this case," said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, whose district covers Chinatown, of the upcoming trials.

Another local politician active in the case, Councilwoman Margaret Chin, is likely to attend the hearing in North Carolina on either Wednesday or Thursday, her spokeswoman said.

In May, on what would have been Chen’s 20th birthday, a group of advocates traveled to Washington, D.C., to present lawmakers with more than 9,000 cards pushing for the passage of recently introduced federal legislation that aims to prevent hazing in the military.

They were also successful earlier this year in pressing for the trials to be moved from Afghanistan to the United States.