After Iraq, a life unraveled

He went to war with a Marine regiment known as the Cannon Cockers, an artillery unit that rained explosive shells on the enemy in Iraq.

He did not stay long - less than three months in 2008. But Bradley Stone claimed he had been fully disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder and was taking medication as part of his mental-health treatment.

It is clear that he struggled with alcohol. And on the license for his second marriage, he listed his occupation as "disabled veteran."

In a patch of woods not far from his Pennsburg home Tuesday afternoon, police found Stone dead of self-inflicted cutting wounds - a gruesome end to a manhunt that began after he killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives in Montgomery County on Monday.

On Tuesday, service veteran friends of Stone's struggled to make sense of the killings. None condoned them. At the same time, they said, Stone had suffered.

"He saw war," said Seth Howard, 27, a Marine veteran of Iraq. "How are you supposed to be healthy after that?"

Howard was at Vets for Vets, a nonprofit center close to Stone's house in Pennsburg. He said the two often talked about their combat experiences.

Stone, friends said, was a Marine through and through, a family man who happily lent a hand to shovel snow, and a former sergeant who struggled with stress disorder and physical injuries from carrying heavy backpacks in Iraq.

Vietnam veteran Clyde Hoch, 68, said that he and Stone were not close, but that he considered the younger man "a pretty decent guy."

"You can't condemn someone until you understand what they went through," he said.

 

Service to country

Jake Leone, who bought and renovated the former post office that houses Vets for Vets, said Stone willingly lent his construction tools for the work.

"The cool thing about him," Leone said, "was the level of pride he took in the service of his country."

Stone, 35, enlisted in the Marines as a reservist in 2002, left the service in 2008, and remained on ready-reserve status until a final separation in 2011, according to the Marines. His records give no sign that he was wounded or otherwise injured during his service, the Marines said.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said she did not believe Stone had been found to have PTSD. The slayings had "no valid explanation," she said.

In the Marines, Stone had been assigned to the Third Battalion, 14th Regiment, known informally as the 3/14, a Philadelphia-based reserve artillery battalion.

He was an artillery meteorological man, meaning he helped direct fire by observing and computing weather data.

When Stone went to war, however, it was not with the 3/14, but with the 11th Regiment, an artillery unit based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Officials at both regiments said they could provide no information about Stone.

Stone served in Iraq from April 17 to July 2, 2008.

Members of his artillery unit were assigned to different parts of Anbar province, according to Sgt. Bobbie Curtis, a Marine spokesman who also served in Iraq. Most Marines typically spent six months to a year in Iraq.

"The 11th Regiment was not there as an individual unit doing a job," Curtis said. "They could have been doing everything from artillery to convoy security or manning checkpoints."

Parts of the unit experienced combat, he said. He said he had no information on unit casualties during Stone's time in Iraq.

 

Postwar troubles

After he returned, Stone sought work for a time as a contractor, but it is unclear how busy he was or how long he looked for such work, according to one Montgomery County business owner who worked with Stone but asked not to be identified.

And Stone's personal life started to unravel. In 2009, Stone and his wife, Nicole, began divorce proceedings. The divorce was finalized in 2012, but a custody battle over their two daughters was ongoing.

Records also show Stone owned at least two handguns - a Heckler & Koch .40-caliber and a Beretta 9mm.

In November 2013, Stone stood before a Montgomery County Court judge after being arrested on charges of drunken driving for the third time in about a decade.

At 12:30 a.m. on April 28, 2013, Stone was driving a silver Ford Fusion on Gravel Pike in Lower Frederick Township when he missed a curve, thumped over a curb, and drove onto a lawn, according to an affidavit.

When troopers arrived, Jennifer Ovdiyenko, Stone's soon-to-be spouse and the car's owner, told them she had been driving. She later admitted covering up for Stone because he had previous drunken driving arrests.

Along with taking medications and having PTSD, Stone described himself as broke and unable to work.

Instead of coming down hard on the divorced father of two young girls, Judge William Furber Jr. allowed Stone to enter a veteran treatment program that ensured he would not go to jail or pay a large fine.

Furber emphasized Stone's military service and stressed that he and others were there to help the veteran. Under the terms of Veterans Treatment Court, Stone would have to make regular court appearances and follow a treatment plan.

"I'm proud to admit you," Furber told Stone, according to the transcript.

He sentenced Stone to 23 months of "intermediate punishment" - sparing him prison - with the first 90 days to be served under house arrest. Stone also received three years of probation and a $1,500 fine.

Stone told the judge he had been treated at a VA facility for combat-related injuries since 2008.

As the hearing neared its end, Furber thanked Stone for his military service and told others in the room, "Let's give this man a hand."

 


jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

Inquirer staff writers Chris Palmer and Michaelle Bond contributed to this article.