KABUL — The mystery over the identity of the 17th Afghan victim in the murder case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales grew murkier Monday, after an Afghan police official initially asserted that a pregnant woman’s fetus was also among the dead, only to retract the statement a few hours later.
Bales was formally charged Friday with 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder in a massacre of villagers in Kandahar Province on March 11. But Afghan officials say 16 were killed.
On Monday, it appeared the difference could be accounted for by including a fetus, according to an interview with Brigadier General Abdul Raziq, the police chief in Kandahar Province.
“One of the females was pregnant, which is why they are saying 17,’’ he said.
But Raziq later said that he could no longer support that assertion. And Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie E. Cummings Jr., a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, insisted that no fetus was among the count of victims.
“Our investigators on the ground found enough evidence for charges in 17 cases,’’ he said. “There were no wounded who died, and no fetus.’’
The confusion came as Bales’s wife, Karilyn, appeared in her first television interview and defended her husband, saying that he did not show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and that she did not believe he could have committed such a massacre of civilians, including women and children.
‘I probably prayed and prayed that my husband wasn’t involved.’Karilyn Bales Wife of accused staff sergeant in Afghan spree
“He loves children, and he would not do that,’’ she told NBC’s “Today’’ show. “It’s heartbreaking.’’
She described her husband as “a very tough guy’’ who did not appear to have symptoms of the disorder, such as nightmares. But, she said, “he shielded me from a lot of what he went through.’’ He never told her about a traumatic brain injury he had in Iraq, until he returned home.
The accusations are “unbelievable to me,’’ his wife said. “He loves children, he’s like a big kid himself,’’ she said. “I have no idea what happened, but he would not . . . he loves children, and he would not do that.’’
Karilyn Bales was in a grocery store when she first heard of the rampage in a phone call from her parents.
“They said, well, it looks like a US soldier, some Afghan civilians were killed by a soldier,’’ she said. She learned more when she got home.
“I saw 38-year-old staff sergeant, and I don’t think there are very many of those, and I probably prayed and prayed that my husband wasn’t involved,’’ she said. “And then, I received a phone call from the Army saying that they would like to come out and talk to me. And I was relieved, because when you get a phone call, you know that your soldier is not deceased.’’
She said she started crying after being told about the shootings.
Afghan and US officials said US officials paid compensation to the family members of the 16 dead and six wounded victims last Saturday; at the rate of $50,000 for each fatality and $11,000 for each injury, that totals $866,000.
Other Afghan officials insisted Monday that only 16 people were killed in the rampage.
“The foreigners have made a mistake,’’ said Ahmed Jawed Faisal, head of the Kandahar Media Information Center. “There is no 17th person dead. According to our records, it is 16.’’
He released the government’s list of the names of those 16 victims, and also said none of the six wounded victims had died.
US military officials also initially reported that Bales had killed 16 civilians. But the military’s charge sheet against Bales lists 17 counts of murder with premeditation, and it lists the names of 16 of the victims - although those names are redacted on copies of the sheet released by the Army.
On the fifth count, or specification, of murder, however, there is no name given, and the charge reads that Bales murdered “a male of apparent Afghan descent by means of shooting him with a firearm.’’