Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in the death of a fellow service member who authorities say apparently shot himself in Afghanistan after being assaulted and taunted with racial insults by his comrades.
Pte. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old from New York's Chinatown neighbourhood, was found dead in a guard tower in Kandahar province Oct. 3 with what the army said was an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, said at a news conference Wednesday in Chinatown that Chen's fellow soldiers had dragged him across the floor, threw stones at the back of his head, forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while upside down as part of an apparent hazing, and called him "Jackie Chen" in a mocking accent.
The details of his alleged hazing came from Facebook and email messages, discussions with cousins and a few pages of Chen's journal released by the army, OuYang said.
The army said Wednesday that eight soldiers in his company have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to manslaughter.
At the news conference, Chen's relatives said they were encouraged by the charges.
"We realize that Danny will never return, but it gives us some hope," said Yen Tao Chen, his father, speaking through a translator.
Community activists said the army still has not fully explained the circumstances of Chen's death. They are meeting with Pentagon officials Jan. 4.
"We need to know the whole truth," Representative Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat, said at the news conference.
She added: "Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in today's military."
The army announced earlier it is investigating Chen's death.
Chen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
In a statement, the army identified the soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, Spc. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden. Their hometowns were not immediately released.
Van Bockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with the most serious offences, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.
Schwartz, the only officer among the accused, with charged with dereliction of duty.