CAMDEN, N.J. – Air Force Senior Airman Jonathan Schrieken was casually unpacking his car in front of his Willingboro, N.J., house on the evening of July 4. A moment later, he was fighting for his life.
Out of nowhere, an attacker leveled a handgun at him and fired point-blank into his chest, before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life.
What motivated 22-year-old Matthew Marren to open fire is unclear.
But the Internet furor stirred by the shooting has been unmistakable. The incident quickly became a cause celebre, fanned by a host of conservative and military bloggers across the country as well as national columnist Michelle Malkin, who argued that Schrieken had been targeted by an antiwar zealot.
“I’ve watched the blogs,” said Willingboro police spokesman Joe Dey. “It picked up fire.”
Within days of the incident, cyberspace was burning with criticism of the media for underplaying the story and failing to report the reason for the shooting.
Bloggers cited two notes left by Marren – in his car and at home – that reportedly blasted the government and military. The general content was revealed by Marren’s Trion, Ga., aunt in a story on the Web site PhillyBurbs.com. The aunt said he “wanted to make a statement” on Independence Day.
“Now, imagine the scenario flipped: What if a soldier had attempted to murder a peace activist over the holidays in order to “make a statement?”‘ wrote Malkin in a July 11 piece titled “When Peaceniks Attack, Journalists Snooze” on Townhall.com. “The (New York) Times would be holding a front-page vigil, and Katie Couric’s brow would be furrowed for a week.”
The Little Green Footballs (http:littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog) blog ran a July 10 posting that said “authorities and media are doing their best to downplay and cover up the shooter’s motivation.”
Another blog, baldilocks, (http://baldilocks.typepad.com/) said in a July 8 posting called “Dropping the Mask”: “I guess that “supporting the troops’ is starting to become difficult to pull off.”
And in a July 8 posting on the military blog, Black Five (http://www.blackfive.net/main/2007/07/spiritual-warfa.html), a writer called on readers to “keep this airman in your thoughts, prayers, meditations, or whatever it is you do … I ask that the name of the shooter and discussions about them not be placed in the comments (at the Black Five site), as this isn’t the place for them: It’s about Jonathan Schrieken.”
Burlington County and Willingboro authorities said this week they may never reveal the text of the Marren notes, but that its content did not support the picture presented by bloggers.
Investigators point out that the 22-year-old Schrieken did not know the gunman, was not in uniform at the time of the incident, and would not have been an obvious target for someone trying to kill a soldier.
They also said the text of Marren’s notes was indicative of someone with mental-health problems. And they added that toxicology reports, showing whether Marren was under the influence of drugs, would not be available for weeks.
“No motive has been determined,” said Jack Smith, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. “They (investigators) are still indicating that it was an act of random violence.”
Marren drove to Schrieken’s home, got out of his car about 5:30 p.m. on July 4, and walked up to the airman, gun in hand.
Schrieken, who was released from the hospital on Sunday, said in an interview with WPVI-TV that Marren approached him from behind and opened fire with a 25mm semiautomatic weapon.
“If it were two more centimeters anywhere, he could have shot me in the spinal cord,” said Schrieken, a loadmaster for the Sixth Airlift Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has family in Ohio.
“It was up to him what he wanted to do,” he said. “He was in control of the situation due to the fact that he came up behind me.”
Angel Lopez, a McGuire spokeswoman, said the recuperating Schrieken was quickly contacted by vast numbers of well-wishers, especially in the Air Force community, but was not immediately aware of “all the attention” the incident has received.
Investigators and McGuire officials have been monitoring the Internet traffic and controversy.
“A random act of insanity? Not so fast,” said Malkin, who has been a guest host on Bill O’Reilly’s popular Fox News cable TV show, “The Factor.” “There’s more to the story.”
Malkin cited a reader’s post on the Little Green Footballs weblog, where the mother of a friend of Schrieken’s described what she knew.
“Turns out the guy left a couple of suicide notes stating how much he hated the military and he wanted to go out making a statement, so he chose to make his statement on Independence Day trying to kill a soldier … He’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan on our behalf and then gets shot in his own driveway here in the U.S. by an anti-war, anti-American lunatic.”
This week, Smith, the spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, described Marren’s final words as “rambling. There was no mention of the military, the war in Iraq or the victim being a soldier.
” … This has taken on a life of its own.”
(c) 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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