Air Force Tech. Sgt. Steven D. Bellino started April 8, 2016, like many days before. He donned his active-duty uniform, armed up and went on a mission. However, this mission wasn’t about fighting against foreign actors or rouge states … he left for work that day prepared to confront a man who wronged him in his belief … and many others before him.
When the mission was complete, Bellino would be dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The other victim, Lt. Col. William A. Schroeder, commander of the 342nd Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, would also be found dead.
The story, which made national news, sounds all too familiar. A decorated war hero with PTSD opens fire and lashes out against unsuspecting victims then turns the weapon on himself.
Schroeder spotted Bellino, who was waiting to meet with the commander, with a gun and told the first sergeant to run, the San Antonio Express News reported in a story by the L.A. Times. Bellino fired an errant shot at the first sergeant, then fought with his commander, shooting him three times in one arm and once in the head, the newspaper said.
Both men were dead by the time Bexar County sheriff’s deputies found them in a first-floor office. Schroeder was a veteran officer who joined the Air Force in 1999 and led several special operations units in the last decade. He had been commanding the 342nd Training Squadron for two years.
Bellino’s family and friends grieve knowing Steven was in so much pain, much of what he kept inside. But what they’re struggling with the most is the Air Force’s findings. They do not believe that the then Pararescue student took his own life. They’ve even hired their own expert to get to the bottom of the story.
According to an in-depth story about Bellino published by San Antonio Express News, a forensic pathologist hired by Bellino’s family, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, offered no findings and did not characterize the cause of death. Scott Workman, Bellino’s half-brother, insisted that both he and his parents are certain his half-brother wouldn’t have killed himself.
The story tells how friends believe Bellino was idealistic, a man of exacting fairness, even when distributing candy to kids in the Balkans. He lived up to the letter of the law and expected it of others. He would call out anyone who fell short — he once accused a sergeant major of lying in front of a roomful of soldiers.
Bellino’s family members refuse to believe he killed himself and are trying to clear his name. Still grieving in Parma Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, they say he had everything to live for after a sterling military career.
“Steve devoted his life to the military,” his father, Michael Bellino Sr., told one of his son’s friends from the pararescue program in a phone call the older man recorded. “And then, I mean, he was in battle. He had all these missions he did; the awards, everything he’d done … and then it’s going to come down to this, where (he’s) going to kill himself?”
Workman insists that both he and his parents are certain that his half-brother didn’t commit suicide. Helping them to lean toward that conclusion is a two-page unsigned note typed eight months before the shooting. The Air Force described it as a suicide note. The family members dispute that, saying an expert they hired called it “highly unlikely” Bellino wrote it.
“I do not like this world, and I do not want to be a part of it any longer,” Bellino allegedly wrote in the disputed note in August 2015, the month he quit the pararescue program, went home to Ohio and was charged with being absent without leave. “I’ve searched for many years to find a home consistent with my ethics and such a place does not exist.”
His family says the note and his actions do not fit within his personality. He was fond of children, a doting uncle, though he never married and had few serious relationships, said Workman.
Workman said that neither he nor his parents could be sure that Bellino killed Schroeder or was even armed when he entered Forbes Hall. It’s also possible Bellino “went into a pre-programmed mode” when Schroeder lunged at him, said Workman, who believes his half-brother is a victim and a hero who cared about trainees whose careers were ruined by not being able to re-enlist after attempting a program that only one out of 10 complete.
Friends and admirers said the colonel’s decision to confront and tackle Bellino when he noticed a gun saved his first sergeant’s life and was perfectly in keeping with a straight-up career that ended heroically. Schroder’s death left behind a wife and two sons.
Air Force investigators might know things they have not yet released, perhaps a recording of those final moments. The Air Force autopsy said Bellino was carrying a cellphone and an unspecified “electronic device.” Air Education and Training Command officials would not say if a recording was made … but secretly taping meetings was something Bellino routinely did at Lackland.
“I don’t care what the Air Force says. They’re looking to cover their ass. And that’s all this is about,” Workman said. “He wasn’t just fighting for himself, he was fighting for the others.”
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