After violence found Army Lt. Col. Robert Underwood as a child, he seemed to gravitate toward it.
A series of warnings in recent weeks might have helped prevent the slayings of his estranged wife, girlfriend and commanding officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and possibly even a terrorist attack on the State Capitol.
Pierce County prosecutors on Tuesday charged Underwood, a 46-year-old Steilacoom man, with three counts of felony harassment. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and bail was set at $25,000.
Underwood was 9 when he watched his mother shoot and kill his two siblings and then turn the gun on him, firing five times before leaving him for dead. He survived and enlisted in the Army in 1988, deploying three times.
But too many things went wrong for him. After returning to the U.S. in January, he allegedly paid a hit man $150,000 to kill his wife of 18 years and his superior officer, Col. Shawn Reed. He ranted on Facebook about the corrupt court system and having to pay his wife during their contentious divorce proceedings. He allegedly said he wanted to help the Taliban.
The tale has a darker twist.
Underwood is accused of telling his girlfriend of three months that “her head was on the chopping block” after she uncovered child pornography on his laptop.
Detectives are investigating the girlfriend’s claims that she found a picture depicting an underage relative sleeping in bed and others showing naked children in an empty house in what appears to be Iraq or Afghanistan.
Underwood was arrested at Lewis-McChord on Monday night after detectives were alerted about his threat to blow up the Capitol Building. When they began investigating, they learned of his other threats and took him into custody immediately.
“The totality of everything sounded like he was having some issues and could pose a real threat,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. ”We weren’t going to wait to find out and have somebody get hurt.”
Little was known Tuesday about Underwood’s being shot as a child, but Underwood claimed he had no lingering problems from the incident, a commanding officer told police. His wife disagreed, stating in police reports that he had emotional problems stemming from the shooting and that, combined with his deployments and pending divorce, had made him a “loose cannon.”
Signs that Underwood could be dangerous began to emerge March 1 in conversations with his girlfriend.
According to charging documents:
Underwood’s girlfriend contacted his wife to warn her that Underwood was a “pervert” and said he had paid a man $150,000 to kill his estranged wife and boss. Underwood bragged about how the money would not be found because it was in a foreign account.
The girlfriend then borrowed Underwood’s laptop and found a photograph of a naked relative sleeping in bed. He also had researched how to get teenagers drunk and have sex with them.
When she confronted him, he told her she was going to get what she deserved for “knowing too much about him.”
The wife told investigators that Underwood has “an arsenal of weapons,” could save $150,000 and likely would carry out his threats.
Underwood’s wife has a restraining order against him for herself and their two teenage daughters. She said she has contacted Underwood’s commander multiple times because of threatening emails and Facebook messages.
She filed a report with DuPont police saying she believed Underwood broke into her home this month while she was out to dinner.
“I am afraid he could lose it at any moment,” the wife wrote in a police report in which she also requested additional patrol cars around her home. “He is simply irrational and unpredictable.”
An officer noted that Underwood’s commander, Reed, had called police and warned that Underwood’s threat regarding the Capitol should be considered valid. The officer also wrote that Underwood was paying for six attorneys for the divorce and “put it all together and he is ready to snap.”
The couple was due back in court March 22.
Prosecutors said court proceedings have not been going Underwood’s way.
On Facebook, he posted messages claiming judges are biased against men in divorces and that he’s going broke from paying his wife child support and other court-ordered expenses.
He recently told one of his daughters “that he was going to do something crazy and it would be on the news, the world would know about it and he was going to resign his commission,” according to charging documents.
After learning of the threats, Underwood’s superior officer ordered Underwood to be involuntarily evaluated.
Underwood has deployed three times but does not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the military.
He went to Bosnia from July to October 1998; Iraq in 2003; and Afghanistan from June 2008 to January, a Lewis-McChord spokesman said.
Underwood arrived at Lewis-McChord in January and is assigned to the 191st Infantry Brigade, which is a training support brigade for the Army Reserve and National Guard.
He has earned several awards in the Army, including two Bronze Star medals and a Meritorious Service Medal.
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