Pat Tillman's Death Discussed by Former Army Ranger Steven Elliott

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

** FILE ** Cpl. Pat Tillman is seen in a this 2003 file photo provided by Photography Plus. Just seven days after Pat Tillman's death, a top general warned there were strong indications that it was friendly fire and President Bush might embarrass himself if he said the NFL star-turned-soldier died in an ambush, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.  (AP Photo/Photography Plus via Williamson Stealth Media Solutions, FILE)
Associated Press

Nearly a decade since the tragic death of Army Ranger and former NFL star Pat Tillman due to friendly fire, one of Tillman's comrades has admitted he could have been the one who fired the fatal shots.

According to ESPN.com and Outside the Lines reporter Mike Fish, former Army Ranger Steven Elliott spoke out for the first time since the incident in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

"It is possible, in my mind, that I hit him," Elliott said.

Tillman famously left behind a $3.6 million NFL contract to fight for his country after the events of Sept. 11. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding Tillman's untimely death, and the case has never been definitively solved.


The Army initially told Tillman's family he was killed by enemy fire while charging up a hill to protect fellow Army Rangers. Shortly after his funeral, it was revealed that the Army had investigated Tillman's death and determined he was killed by his own men. 

Although Elliott doesn't know with certainty whether he was responsible, the circumstances surrounding the accident suggest he may have been the one who inadvertently shot Tillman:

You aim at a point, and you fire a burst. You are holding your trigger for a fraction of a second, but that fraction of a second releases three to five rounds. If it looked like you had (three) rounds and very close to one another, well, that was very consistent to how I was firing my weapon at that point. ... It would be disingenuous for me to say there is no way my rounds didn't kill him, because my rounds very well could have.

Elliott also revealed that he wasn't the only one who opened fire in Tillman's direction. After squad leader Greg Baker started shooting, Elliott and two other Rangers followed suit:

The mantra is that when all else fails you do what your team leader does, you go where your team leader goes and you shoot where your team leader shoots, and so effectively...effectively him (Baker) firing at that position is, is the same as his giving an order to fire. ...And it breaks my heart to say that, because I know that he regrets that—so much.

Tillman shocked the football world when he decided to walk away from the NFL in 2001 after developing into one of the league's best safeties. Tillman recorded 144 tackles for the Arizona Cardinals in 2000, 92 more in 2001 and he stood to have a very long NFL career ahead of him.

Robert Laberge/Getty

The allure of fighting for his country was too much, though, as Tillman decided to leave a lucrative living behind him. Because of that decision, Tillman has become a symbol of American determination, sacrifice and patriotism. His retired No. 40 Cardinals jersey stands as a reminder of everything that he ultimately sacrificed.

It is natural that some might look for someone to blame in relation to Tillman's death, but what he accomplished in life should instead be celebrated. The burden of potentially killing Tillman is something Elliott has carried with him for 10 years, and it is clear he regrets the entire situation.

Countless individuals, Alicia Jessop of the Huffington Post included, have sympathized with Elliott since he's gone public:

Elliott is brave to step forward knowing that he could very well be scrutinized, but he should be commended for shedding light on what has been a mysterious case for so many years.

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