Police kill a veteran who stabbed his stepfather

February 14, 2008 1:47:24 PM PST
In the last 10 days of his life, German Sanabria told his family that someone was trying to kill him. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A Bridgeton police officer fatally shot the 26-year-old Iraq war veteran Wednesday morning after being unable to stop the man as police say he stabbed his stepfather repeatedly with a steak knife.

A relative said that Sanabria came back a different, harder man when he returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq about a year ago.

But it was only after he watched the Super Bowl at a club in Vineland on Feb. 3 that he seemed deeply paranoid and suicidal, said Celia Ray, a cousin of Sanabria's mother who lives nearby.

"He got in trouble at this place," Ray said. "He thought someone from there was after him to kill him."

Ray said she did not know whether the trouble was real or imagined - but it did concern the family enough that relatives sought psychiatric help for him at two places in the last week.

Sanabria joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and, as part of the 41st Field Artillery Regiment, was in Iraq five years ago as part of the U.S. invasion.

He did not plan to re-enlist after he came home. But he was later sent back to Iraq as part of the military's "stop-loss" policy. He told The Press of Atlantic City in a 2004 interview that he did not want to go back. He was not afraid, he said, but he had been having nightmares about combat.

When he came home, he lived with his mother and stepfather and enrolled at Cumberland County College, where he made the dean's list for the spring 2007 semester.

Ray said she didn't notice it herself at first, but her cousin, Eva Garcia, told her Sanabria had been changed by the second tour.

But since last week, she could not avoid noticing, she said.

On Feb. 8, she said, the family called a crisis center at a local hospital. He was taken there by ambulance, but was discharged after a few hours.

Three days later, Ray and other relatives were there when they took him to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Philadelphia. The family stayed in a waiting room while he went for tests. But he never returned, she said.

He had left the hospital, a staff member told them.

"We said, 'What do you mean, he left?"' Ray recalled. "She said, 'He can walk away. It's a free country."' A Veterans Administration spokesman said he could not release details about Sanabria's treatment without a waiver signed by his mother.

The family searched for him in Philadelphia for hours before finally returning to Bridgeton, a city about 40 miles to the south.

Ray said they reported him missing.

But around noon Tuesday, he showed up at home. He'd rented a car to get there and complained that the family had left him at the hospital.

Around 6:35 a.m. Wednesday, police received two calls about problems in the home. One came from inside - and one was from a neighbor who reported hearing screams.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Ronald Casella said that when officers arrived, they found Sanabria stabbing Frank Garcia in a bedroom.

In the past, Sanabria had always gotten along well with Garcia, who married his mother about three years ago, Ray said. "He just tried to attack him," Ray said. "He thought that was his enemy."

One officer tried to pull Sanabria off the older man. She was pushed away. Casella said Sanabria resumed attempting to stab Garcia.

That, Casella said, is when Patrolman Anthony Keller fired a single shot killing Sanabria.

Garcia was in stable condition at Cooper University Hospital on Thursday afternoon while the rest of the family was making plans for Sanabria's funeral.