A soldier who lives in Eagle River has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a fellow soldier killed while the two played Russian roulette.
Sgt. Michael M. McCloskey, 26, died March 6 of a gunshot wound to the stomach after he shot himself around 2 a.m. with a .44-caliber Ruger revolver, Anchorage police said.
The shooting occurred in Eagle River at the Dawn Street residence of Pfc. Jacob Brouch, 25, who lives there with his wife and children, police said. Brouch has been charged with second-degree murder.
The men served in the same U.S. Army unit, both of them horizontal construction engineers with the 6th Engineer Battalion out of the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Neither had deployed recently, according to Maj. William Coppernoll, U.S. Army Alaska spokesman. Brouch has never deployed; McCloskey deployed twice to Iraq, returning most recently in November 2009, Coppernoll said.
The murder charges stem from the "extreme indifference to the value of human life" exhibited by Brouch in the time leading up to McCloskey's death, the charging documents say.
Brouch told police the two men were drinking at Brouch's home on the afternoon of March 5 when he started playing Russian roulette with McCloskey watching, according to charging documents. McCloskey had spent the previous night with his buddy on Dawn Street, a road off North Eagle River Loop just a few blocks long but dense with multi-family housing that's popular with military families.
The charging documents describe McCloskey, at least initially, as an unwilling player in the dangerous game that police say killed him.
Here's what the documents say:
Brouch told police he was the one first playing Russian roulette in a back bedroom. He said, "I did spin twice and pull the trigger twice. But I watched the brass. There was just one round in it."
He continued, "I reached in, opened the cylinder, dropped a round, half cocked spun and pointed it at myself (in the body) and pulled the trigger," the documents say.
But then McCloskey told him he hated the game, Brouch told police, and that he wasn't going to play it.
"I did it again and that time I pointed it at my head and clicked," Brouch told police, according to the documents. "McCloskey was like, 'there are we done yet, can we just go.'"
Brouch said he later told McCloskey that the game was safe because "he could see the brass when he spun the cylinder."
Later, the men posed for photos for McCloskey's Facebook page after McCloskey asked to pose with the .44 and a 9 mm semiautomtic pistol, the documents say. Both were intoxicated. They posed for various pictures pointing the weapons at each other and themselves, "staged to look like they were wrestling around, fighting for control of the guns, or contemplating suicide," the documents say.
Then, Brouch told police, they put the firearms away but continued to drink.
Brouch said McCloskey asked him to see the .44 again later, the documents say. Brouch retrieved the revolver, emptied the cylinder of all ammunition and handed the gun to McCloskey, the documents say. McCloskey spun the empty cylinder with the hammer half-cocked, Brouch told police.
"McCloskey then asked for a single round," the documents say. Brouch told police McCloskey said he was going to "play a game" before he shot himself.
McCloskey spun the chamber and pulled the trigger, the documents say. Brouch said he expected to hear a click but instead heard a "deafening bang" because McCloskey had shot himself, the documents say.
Brouch called 911, and McCloskey was transported to the hospital but died soon after, police said.
Brouch, his wife and children were taken to the police station.
He was arraigned March 7 and as of March 8 remained lodged at Anchorage Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
In explaining the murder charge, the charging documents cite Alaska Senate commentary regarding the "extreme indifference" legal theory underpinning second-degree murder. The defendant doesn't need to know that what he's doing is "substantially certain to cause death or serious physical injury," the commentary states. Examples of such conduct might be shooting through a tent without knowing someone was inside, or persuading a person to play Russian roulette.
Brouch was also charged with misconduct involving weapons for possessing a firearm while impaired by alcohol.
McCloskey, who was from Beverly, N.J., graduated the Army Warrior Leader Course, Combat Lifesavers Course and Airborne Course. McCloskey joined the Army in August 2002. He served at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. and Fort Bragg, N. C. before arriving in Alaska in March 2010. Brouch arrived in Alaska in February of last year, Coppernoll said.
There are plans for a memorial service as early as the week of March 14.
Commanders of Brouch and McCloskey's unit will address the death as they see fit, Coppernoll said. It's possible they might reiterate weapons safety.
"Any loss of a soldier is tragic and to do it in a manner that could have been prevented makes it that much worse," he said. "On or off post, this type of thing is something... it didn't have to happen."
This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, March 10, 2011.