Ryan Newell is "Army to the bone," friends and family say of the decorated military veteran who joined the service at 17, lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan and now stands accused of stalking members of a controversial Topeka church.
Proud of his service and proud of his country, he never blamed anyone for his injuries and felt guilty, his grandmother said, that he survived when two of his brothers in combat did not.
Prosecutors charged Newell, 26, with five misdemeanors Thursday, including stalking and three counts of criminal use of a firearm in an incident involving the Phelps family of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church. He also was charged with false impersonation of a law enforcement officer.
The Phelps family often protests at military funerals, saying that the deaths of soldiers are God's way of punishing the country for homosexuality.
"I knew he detested those guys that protested against the GIs that got killed, which I don't blame him there. I do, too.... It was their freedom he was protecting, too," said Newell's grandfather, Jim Crosby, though he noted they had never discussed the Phelps family.
Sedgwick County sheriff's detectives arrested Newell mid-morning Tuesday in the Wichita City Hall parking lot after a detective saw him following a van that carried Westboro church members.
The church members were meeting in City Hall with police officials. Detectives found Newell in a vehicle backed into a parking space. In the vehicle, investigators found two handguns, a rifle and more than 90 rounds of ammunition, sources have said.
The stalking charge accuses Newell of actions targeted at Westboro members and putting them in fear for their safety.
The weapons charges accuse him of unlawfully carrying and concealing or possessing with "intent to use" an M4 rifle, .45-caliber Glock handgun and .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun.
To read the complete article, visit www.kansas.com.