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Mayor's son-in-law, renowned military sniper, dies in Texas shooting

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: FITCO CARES - Chris Kyle, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, helped established an organization that helps struggling veterans in Texas.Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker traveled to Texas early Sunday following the murder of his son-in-law, Chris Kyle, a 38-year-old former Navy SEAL who lived through six explosions and was shot multiple times while serving as a sniper in Iraq.

Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot dead on Saturday, reportedly by a former Marine who had accompanied them to a shooting range in Erath County, Texas.

Reasons for the murders remained unclear early this week. According to news reports, Texas authorities have arrested a suspect and charged him with the slayings. Erath County Jail records show Eddie Ray Routh faces one count of capital murder and two counts of murder.

Lake Oswego City Council President Mike Kehoe said he learned of the tragedy Saturday night, when the mayor called to make sure he’d be able to lead Tuesday’s council meeting. Studebaker and his wife, Kim, were preparing to fly to Texas to be with their daughter, Taya, and their two grandchildren. Taya is Chris Kyle's widow. The Studebakers raised their two daughters in Oregon.

“To me he’s an American hero,” Kehoe said of Kyle. “Here he is, trying to help people with post-traumatic stress. … It’s a huge tragedy.”

Kyle is considered the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, with as many as 255 confirmed kills, according to William Morrow, which published his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.”

The memoir, which details his experiences on combat tours from 1999 to 2009, became a bestseller after it was released last year.

Kyle earned two Silver Stars and five Bronze stars with Valor, was shot twice and survived six IED attacks during four deployments to Iraq, according to his book publisher. Before joining the Navy, he was a professional rodeo bronc rider.

When he returned to Texas, Kyle founded Craft International, a firm providing weapons and security training, and he helped establish FITCO Cares, a nonprofit that helps former military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Travis Cox, director of the FITCO Cares foundation, released a statement calling Kyle “a lifelong patriot and an American hero,” not only because of his military service but also because of his efforts to help veterans.

“What began as a plea for help from Chris looking for in-home fitness equipment for his brothers- and sisters-in-arms struggling with (post-traumatic stress disorder) … became an organization that will carry that torch proudly in his honor,” Cox said, adding that Kyle died doing what “filled his heart with passion — serving soldiers struggling with the fight to overcome PTSD.”

Kehoe, who met Kyle in Lake Oswego last summer, described him as “a normal, average, very humble, nice guy.” He is also a fan of “American Sniper” and said Kyle was “very self-effacing in it.”

“He walks you through how many people’s lives he saved because he was a sniper," Kehoe said.

He described reading a scene in which Kyle kills a woman who turned out to be holding a Russian grenade near a bunch of troops.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” Kehoe said. “He actually kills a lady, the only lady he shot in Iraq. He didn’t understand it at the time, but his commanding officer told him he had to take the shot. … He saved a whole bunch of troops that time and many other times.”

Kyle had another book set to come out this spring called “American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms.”

A message on the FITCO website, http://fitcocares.org, says people can support the Kyle family by contributing money through America's Mighty Warriors, at http://americasmightywarriors.org, which will give 100 percent of donations marked "Chris Kyle Memorial" to the Kyle family.