Sunday, June 13, 2004

Vet admits heist at Keokuk bank; reasons unclear

By Kimberly Hefling
The Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL - Seven hours from his Army post and thousands of miles from the Iraq war he left behind, Master Sgt. Kenneth Schweitzer admitted to robbing an Iowa bank - and found compassion from an unlikely person.

Schweitzer apparently knew no one in Keokuk, a town of 11,000, before he allegedly walked into a bank, fired shots into the ceiling and demanded cash. He drove off with a bag full of money and went straight to a police station to turn himself in. He told officers he didn't need the money, he just wanted to live in an 8-by-8-foot cell.

It is a case that baffles police and acquaintances of Schweitzer, a father and decorated soldier who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He told police his war experience was not related to the alleged robbery, but some say there must be a connection.

To Ed Johnstone, a Navy veteran and the president of Keokuk Savings Bank, the whys aren't as important. One thing is clear: Schweitzer needed help. He asked the local prosecutor to transfer the case to military courts, where he believes Schweitzer could get the best counseling.

"Having served in the military as a young man, I understand the pressures people are under with being in the unit he was with," Johnstone said. "I have great empathy for his feelings and what he was trying to deal with."

The 101st Airborne Division is a rapid-deployment unit trained to go anywhere in the world in 36 hours. It is based at Fort Campbell on the Tennessee border, 480 miles from Keokuk.

Lee County, Iowa, prosecutor Michael Short agreed to transfer the case to Army courts.

Schweitzer, who has been in the Army 18 years, is now in a confinement center at Fort Knox where the Army says he is receiving help. Charges against him could come later.

Schweitzer deployed with the division when it fought in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He earned a Bronze Star, which is awarded for combat heroism or meritorious service.

He also went to Iraq. The 20,000 soldiers of the 101st returned home earlier this spring after having spent much of a yearlong deployment in northern Iraq. Fifty-eight of its soldiers were killed in the war.

Why Keokuk?

Authorities said Schweitzer left Fort Campbell the day of the robbery. Keokuk police aren't sure why he ended up in their town.

Johnstone, the bank president, said his employees described the bank robber as businesslike and not at all nervous.

Schweitzer, 38, told Keokuk police he knew from Army training that firing shots into the ceiling could hurt people on the second floor, so he chose the bank he did because it had just one story.

"We haven't figured it out yet. He definitely didn't want to hurt anybody," said police Capt. Kevin Church.

But Rachel Yehuda, a psychiatry professor who directs the post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City, said the desire to withdraw from society can be a reaction to traumatic events in war.

Veterans often become emotionally isolated, Yehuda said, adding that some returning Vietnam vets chose to live in seclusion in the woods because they felt out of control and did not want to hurt anybody.

"I think this kind of behavior suggests that something terrible did happen," Yehuda said. "No one should be surprised that there are terrible things happening in war that are not always talked about."

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