Thursday, February 14, 2008

Family tried to help him

A soldier dies at home after 2 combat tours

BRIDGETON -- Those who knew U.S. Army Spc. German Sanabria said it was especially sad to know the 26-year-old was killed at home after having survived two tours in Iraq.

"I'm saddened to hear his life was cut short," said Miguel Lopez, a counselor at Bridgeton High School. "It's shocking to hear things like this happen."

Sanabria was shot by a city police officer early Wednesday morning after he repeatedly stabbed his stepfather in their home on Atlantic Street.

Raised in Bridgeton, he had returned to the area in May 2006 following his second tour of duty in Iraq, according to family member Celia Ray.

Family members believe Sanabria was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, Ray said, noting she and Sanabria's mother had taken him to Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia on Monday for evaluation.

Lopez knew Sanabria through the Latin American Club at Bridgeton High.

As the club's advisor, he said he remembered Sanabria being an active participant in the group.

"I also remember the sense of humor he had about things," he added.

Consuelo Hernandez, a close friend of Sanabria's family, said Wednesday he was a "very nice guy.

"The last time we saw him was in January, for Three Kings Day," she said. "He was enjoying being with family and friends. But after he came back from Iraq, there was a difference. He was a gentle man before that."

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In August 2003, and again in December 2004, Sanabria was honored by Bridgeton City Council and the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders for his service in the Army.

An attendee of both ceremonies, Lopez said it was quite an honor the two organizations bestowed on Sanabria.

"As it was explained to me, they looked at him as being a representative of the young men who are serving and who did serve in this area," he said.

Although joining the Armed Forces is never an easy decision, Sanabria's family and friends supported his decision.

Ray, a cousin of Sanabria's mother, said previously they just wanted him to be happy.

"We are excited, but sad at the same time," Ray said. "I know he's fighting for our freedom, and we need that. We have to show him that we appreciate what he's doing because he volunteered, not because anyone else told him to. He sacrificed his youth to be there."

Sanabria's mother, Eva Garcia, 53, was one of the few people who said they did not want him to go.

It may have been his mother's reservations that led him to comment to Lopez during a leave home that he wanted to give up the Army life.

"He said while the service was something he wanted to go into, because of the long tours that our servicemen have to go on, he was about ready to settle down and get out," Lopez said.

Lopez added it is unfortunate Sanabria could not fulfill his dreams.

"I don't know which is sadder, those that die over (in Iraq), or those that make it through all that and then come here to face something like this," he said. "I am shocked and saddened."

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