From an Associated Press story today:
Just months after he was deployed to Iraq in 2008, a Marine veteran now suspected in the deaths of four homeless men in Southern California sent his family a short, upbeat video greeting.
The video, which was mostly in Spanish, showed Itzcoatl Ocampo wishing his father a happy Father’s Day and reading an excerpt from Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to his then 10-year-old sister.
The former Marine’s 17-year-old brother, Mixcoatl Ocampo, recalled how happy his family members were when they got the video in the mail that summer. They all gathered around the television in the living room to watch Itzcoatl Ocampo, who appeared in fatigues and talked against the backdrop of an American flag.
“We hadn’t seen my brother since he got deployed,” he said. “Dad saw the video, and when he first saw it he was thrilled.”
According to friends and family, a much darker Ocampo returned home after he was discharged in 2010. His parents separated, and his father eventually became homeless.
Now, Ocampo’s family is left trying to reconcile the smiling, slightly nervous-sounding soldier in the video greeting friends and family with the blankly staring man in the police mug shot accused of murder.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Tuesday to announce charges against Itzcoatl Ocampo. The 23-year-old is expected to be charged with four counts of murder in the serial killings of four homeless men since late December.
He was arrested Jan. 13 after a locally known homeless man, John Berry, 64, was stabbed to death outside an Anaheim fast-food restaurant. Bystanders gave chase, and police made the arrest. Ocampo is being held in isolation at the central jail in Santa Ana for his own safety because of the notoriety of the case, according to Lt. Hal Brotheim, a spokesman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
And on my Facebook page today, I saw this link from a Martin Luther King speech that I’d forgotten, The Casualties of War in Vietnam:
I would like to speak to you candidly and forthrightly this afternoon about our present involvement in Vietnam. I have chosen as a subject, “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” We are all aware of the nightmarish physical casualties. We see them in our living rooms in all of their tragic dimensions on television screens, and we read about them on our subway and bus rides in daily newspaper accounts. We see the rice fields of a small Asian country being trampled at will and burned at whim. We see grief stricken mothers with crying babies clutched in their arms as they watch their little huts burst forth into flames. We see the fields and valleys of battle being painted with human blood. We see the broken bodies left prostrate in countless fields. We see young men being sent home half men, physically handicapped and mentally deranged. Most tragic of all is the casualty list among children. So many Vietnamese children have been mutilated and incinerated by napalm and by bombs. A war in which children are incinerated, in which American soldiers die in mounting numbers is a war that mutilates the conscience. These casualties are enough to cause all men to rise up with righteous indignation and oppose the very nature of this war.
But the physical casualties of the war in Vietnam are not alone catastrophes. The casualties of principles and values are equally disastrous and injurious. Indeed, they are ultimately more harmful because they are self perpetuating. If the casualties of principle are not healed, the physical casualties will continue to mount.
What Itzcoatl Ocampo did, apparently murdering four homeless men (he’s not been tried or convicted), clearly is wrong. But we as a society also bear culpability. Sending people off to war is not without predictable hazards. And those hazards extend beyond likely death and destruction of our soldiers and the civilians they encounter. The hazards also extend to those soldiers who return home.
To willfully damage people like Itzcoatl Ocampo, adding a burden to his family and community, for oil or payback in Iraq and whatever the reason was for Afghanistan, that’s profoundly immoral. It violates human decency and requires people be held accountable legally, especially in the case of Iraq which apparently was pursued with lies. To think Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush can retire, that we’ll all get over their stupidity or whatever motivated them, is to ignore people like Itzcoatl Ocampo and his (apparent) victims, the community they live in and Mr. Ocampo’s family.
The AP piece also includes these timely details, given the economic injustice in our country:
Ocampo’s father, 49-year-old Refugio Ocampo, said his son came back a changed man after serving in Iraq, expressing disillusionment and becoming ever darker as his family life frayed and he struggled to find his way as a civilian.
The father said he lost his job and home, and ended up living under a bridge before finding shelter in the cab of a broken-down big-rig he is helping repair.
Just days before his elder son’s arrest, Itzcoatl Ocampo came to visit his father, warning him of the danger of being on the streets and showing him a picture of one of the victims.
“He was very worried about me,” Refugio Ocampo told The Associated Press on Sunday. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry. I’m a survivor. Nothing will happen to me.’”
And this bit, which every person who hates illegals should be forced to read:
A neighbor who is a Vietnam veteran and the father both tried to push Itzcoatl to get treatment at a Veterans hospital, but he refused. Refugio Ocampo said he wanted his son to get psychological treatment as well.
“He started talking about stuff that didn’t make any sense, that the end of the world was going to happen,” he said.
While Refugio Ocampo lives away from his family, they remain close. He saw his children every day, and his wife brings food to the parking lot where the truck is located in the city of Fullerton.
Refugio Ocampo, who said he was educated as a lawyer in Mexico, immigrated with his wife and Itzcoatl in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen. He described building a successful life in which he became a warehouse manager and bought a home in Yorba Linda. In the past few years he lost his job, ran out of savings, lost his house and separated from his wife.
Standing near the truck where he sleeps, Refugio Ocampo fought back tears as he described the changes he saw in his son in the year since returning home.
Yet another American, playing by the rules, doing most everything right, loses everything and has nothing left but family. And a son who comes back from a war and apparently cannot handle what he experienced.
My son the other day asked me what this poem meant and it seems relevant in every era:
‘No Man is an Island’
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
We need more people like Dr. Martin Luther King, don’t you think? Our country would be, could be, a much better place for families like the Ocampos.