Jeffery Todd Bradley’s sergeant gave the command.
The target: An 8-year-old boy who carried what Bradley’s unit thought was an improvised explosive device (IED), common in the Afghanistan war zone where Bradley experienced his first overseas deployment.
The boy had ignored repeated commands to drop “the weapon.” Following orders, Bradley fired. The boy fell to the ground and died.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Bradley would later learn that the child did not have an IED, but a radio.
In his nine-year military career, Bradley, 28, received at least 10 awards and commendations. He served two overseas deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. His rank was private and he worked as a combat engineer.
His life started “unraveling” at the end of his tour in Iraq, when he began receiving psychiatric treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and problems associated with a brain injury, said Dr. David Price, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Bradley.
“We see a lot of returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Price, who has worked extensively with veterans and cited authors who have examined the “psychological ramifications for teaching people to kill.”
“There’s a reluctance from human beings to kill human beings,” Price said. “If you’re actually in combat, the question is not if you’ll get post-traumatic stress disorder or something similar, it’s a question of when. It’s different for different soldiers.”
In a Lancaster County courtroom Monday, Bradley pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse, admitting that he threw 11-month-old Madison Stewart onto the floor and shook her as he watched her at their Chester County home last September.
Penny Stewart, the girl’s mother and Bradley’s girlfriend at the time of the injury, was at work.
Bradley initially told police Madison had been electrocuted after chewing on a phone cord. He later told investigators she had fallen.
Because his story did not match Madison’s injuries, he was arrested by Chester County authorities. While in custody, he admitted that he had caused the injuries leading to Madison’s death.
“He has cried and cried and cried and told me he didn’t realize what happened,” Bradley’s mother, Tammy Fulp, testifed in court. “That’s why he changed his story. He took the life of an innocent little baby. He’s in hell every day. ... He did love her.”
“JT Bradley stands here before you not offering an excuse,” Bradley’s attorney, Sixth Circuit Chief Public Defender Mike Lifsey told Circuit Court Judge Brian Gibbons. Lifsey said Bradley was a “good, sensitive child” whose life changed once he enlisted in the Army reserves as a high school senior.
Two years later, he was sent to the first of two overseas deployments.
“It’s not an excuse, but it’s a fact,” Lifsey said. “Those two tours profoundly damaged this young man.”
While stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, Bradley was twice arrested by military police – once when he was charged with criminal domestic violence and again when he was accused of using K2 spice synthetic marijuana, said Assistant Sixth Circuit Solicitor Julie Hall, who prosecuted Bradley. He was discharged from service because of his drug use and later hospitalized in Kansas when he was believed to be suicidal.
Price said Bradley “can act aggressively without provocation” and struggled with “feeling that he had nothing to live for when he returned from Iraq.”
His marriage dissolved and he was separated from his 6-year-old son. He began using marijuana, Price said, as “self-medication.” He was also prescribed Xanax and antidepressants and entered counseling.
Hall asked Price if veterans diagnosed with PTSD are warned about the symptoms, but Price said he could not “definitively” answer if the Veterans Administration adequately informed Bradley of his potential outbursts.
Bradley told Judge Gibbons that he didn’t want to cast blame for his actions on PTSD, but he insisted he did not receive proper treatment from the Veterans Administration. None of his “brothers and sisters” in the military have, he said.
His actions were not “any direct malice toward Madison ... any direct anger toward Madison,” he said before he told Gibbons he was “not asking for leniency” but accepting “full responsibility for what I did.”
One after the other in court, Bradley’s relatives told Gibbons that the “JT” who returned home from the war was not the same man who left.
“JT was a fine young man,” said his stepfather, Arthur Fulp, adding that “the JT” charged with killing Madison Stewart “is the JT that came back from Iraq and Afghanistan ... who served his country admirably.”
“He was a changed human being when he came back,” Arthur Fulp said. “What happened to him over there, none of us can probably understand.”