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Sister of Bridge Standoff Suspect Sheds Light on His Struggles

While she deeply regrets the furor it caused, Ginny Myers says she believes her brother was earnest in his attempt to shift attention to the plight of soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Whatever happens in the case of Edward Kyle Van Tassel, the Iraq War veteran whose four-hour armed standoff with police on the La Cumbre Road overpass brought Santa Barbara to a standstill Monday, this much is certain: He has endured some hard times.

Eddie Van Tassel
Eddie Van Tassel
Van Tassel’s family is eager to tell the public that the 28-year-old man they know as Kyle is not a dangerous individual, but rather the misunderstood victim not only of the ravages of war, but also a difficult streak of luck at home.

Ginny Myers, Van Tassel’s sister, told Noozhawk this week that while she deeply regrets what happened, she believes her brother was earnest in his attempt to shift the world’s attention to the plight of soldiers fighting in Iraq.

“He couldn’t have hurt anybody; he had an empty gun,” she said. “That’s how badly he wanted to be heard.”

Myers, who works at a local clinic and lives with her husband and two children, said she is torn over what happened that day. On the one hand, she is angry with her brother. On the other, she said she is trying — and beginning — to understand what he was attempting to say.

“To me, it’s sick. He had no idea what it could mean for the rest of us,” she said. But “he knew that in the world we live in, unless you’re a threat, no one is going to pay attention to you. It was the wrong way, but the right reason.”

In Iraq, Van Tassel was sent to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, and the location of some of the war’s bloodiest battles. There, he witnessed heavy combat: This week, The Santa Barbara Daily Sound described an incident in which Van Tassel watched a man die in his arms.

But the string of misfortune didn’t begin or end with the war.

For starters, when Van Tassel signed up for the military, he had no intentions of fighting in a war, she said.

Van Tassel enlisted in the Army in February 2003 — a month before the war began — as a way to pay for college and get a loan for a home, she said.

“You can call it naïve, but that’s what a lot of young kids are who go,” she said. “As soon as he signed that paper, his life was over.”

The first devastating blow came just three days after he left for boot camp.

His best friend, Rogelio Medina, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Myers said she was told it was because he was so distraught by Van Tassel’s departure.

“Those two boys were just peas in a pod,” she said. “They just never fit in with the in-crowd.”

Van Tassel came back for the funeral, returned to boot camp and then went to Germany to await deployment.

Myers said Van Tassel had tried to tell his superiors that he wasn’t fit for killing. “He was just not a warrior,” she said.

In response, they appeased him by assuring him he would work as a pencil pusher, she said.

In January 2004, Van Tassel was sent to Iraq, where he stayed for about a year. “As soon as he got there, they gave him a gun,” she said.

At some point after witnessing heavy combat, Myers said Van Tassel tried to kill himself by jumping from a building.

Eventually, the Army discharged him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he stayed for several months. In October 2005, he returned to Santa Barbara.

Once back home, he worked odd jobs at places such as Ralph’s grocery store to help support the family, which was financially strapped, she said.

All the while, she said, the military sent him boxes in the mail containing medication for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

Occasionally, she said, Van Tassel tried sharing his messages on the Iraq war with local media outlets. She said nobody ever seemed interested in granting him a forum, adding that she believes the war has become something of a forgotten topic in America.

“We don’t think about that anymore,” she said. “We go to work, we go to school, we go home.”

Last year, Van Tassel drifted to Las Vegas and worked for a time before returning to Santa Barbara. “My family needed him here to help support them,” Myers said.

About a year ago, Van Tassel took a job at a public storage company in Goleta. Then came another shock. In February, their father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 65.

“No one would have thought in a hundred years,” Myers said. “He was very healthy — or so we thought. He was energetic, always running up and down the stairs.”

Van Tassel, she said, was the only boy among the family’s four children. The two closest males in his life had been his father and best childhood friend, and now both are gone.

Meanwhile, for the rest of his siblings, life moved on. “I’m married, I have two children,” Myers said. “My brother pretty much was alone.”

Shortly after the death of their father, she said, their mother lost the job she had held for 15 years. Again, Van Tassel tried to help raise money for the family by getting a job at a recycling center.

“He was always trying to help, and somehow nothing was getting done,” Myers said.

On Monday, when Myers and her mother heard news reports of a gunman on the bridge, they had a feeling they knew who it was. Early that morning, Van Tassel had left a mysterious note at home, similar to a suicide letter, instructing them on how to give away his possessions if something should happen to him.

Myers said her first reaction was to feel a wave of anger toward her brother.

“It was, ‘Why are you out there? Why are you doing this to us? You keep those people in traffic for two hours, and those poor police officers.’”

Now, she said, she is thankful that police kept him safe. “Thank God everything ended the way it did,” she said.

Myers added that for all the heartache, the incident has produced its intended effect on her: reflecting more on the plight of U.S. troops.

“For two hours, he risked his life to prove a point,” she said. “When I thought about that, that’s when I realized I wasn’t so angry. ... He’s a good person; a good-hearted human being.”

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