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‘Towards the end, he just unraveled’ ‘Towards the end, he just unraveled’

The Robesonian - 10/4/2017

PARKTON — As the State Bureau of Investigation tries to determine what led to and what happened during a standoff on Sunday that ended with the death of a 33-year-old military veteran, a portrait is beginning to emerge of a troubled individual struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, possibly caused by his war experiences.

The policy of the SBI, which as a matter of routine investigates deadly confrontations involving lawmen, is not to comment about ongoing investigations, said Patty McQuillan, an agency spokesperson. When its investigation of the standoff is complete, the SBI will turn its findings over to District Attorney Johnson Britt.

People who served with Kevin Anthony Battaglia, his girlfriend, and people who lived near his two-story white home at 96 Acadiana Drive said he had been acting increasingly strange recently. Evidence of that could be found on his Facebook page, where he called himself “GOD,” a photo depicting a U.S. flag, the Bible and a weapon had been posted, and he could be seen in recent days wearing camouflage pants and a black shirt that read “United We Stand.”

Much of what he wrote on Facebook in recent days was religious in nature.

The standoff began shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday when law enforcement officers were dispatched for a “wellness check.” According to Sheriff Kenneth Sealey, Battaglia acted angrily and began firing shots that kept four officers pinned down for more than two hours. The chronology of the events has not been revealed, but more than 50 officers from multiple agencies responded, including the SBI, FBI, Cumberland and Robeson sheriff’s offices, and Fayetteville, Lumberton and Parkton police departments.

A negotiator and a former Army buddy tried to get Battaglia to surrender, but the pleas were met with gunfire.

At one point, a bullet from Battaglia struck a highway patrolman, who was saved from injury by a bulletproof vest.

Court records show Battaglia had a troubled history with law enforcement, an ex-wife he divorced in 2010 and his recent girlfriend, who apparently had just moved out of the Parkton house. When Battaglia died, he was on probation after serving time in prison for attacking two police officers during a drunken incident at a Virginia bar in 2013. He had two pending drunken driving charges in Cumberland County and a pending charge of violating a domestic violence protective order involving his girlfriend. He was convicted in Robeson County in August of stalking, and had appealed that conviction to a higher court.

The Robesonian attempted to contact his girlfriend, Jen Luce, through Facebook, but she did not return the message. She was active on Facebook during and after the standoff, and said at one time she had tried to get Battaglia “committed,” but “he said he was fine.”

The Robesonian interviewed three of his neighbors on Monday, and all said he was someone who attended neighborhood functions, including cookouts, and he could be seen often working in his yard.

“He was a nice man. He was very respectful,” said Paula Solomon, who added, “Towards the end, he just unraveled a bit.”

Battaglia was an Army soldier who served overseas and was medically discharged, apparently with a bad back.

The Fayetteville Observer spoke with two veterans who served with him, retired Lt. Col. Paul Huszar and retired Staff Sgt. Jeramiah Gentry.

“He was a physically fit, good-looking kid,” Huszar told the newspaper. “Intellectually sharp.”

But Gentry told the paper, “His demons were catching up to him.”

According to court documents, Battaglia claimed to suffer PTSD. Huszar and Gentry told the Fayetteville Observer he did not feel he was being fairly treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Facebook posts in recent week worried Battaglia’s friends, and he turned to religion.

“It was kind of ultra religious, but almost cultish like,” Huszar told the Fayetteville paper.

Gentry said he and another veteran called law enforcement after seeing what they felt were disturbing images on Battaglia’s Facebook page. It is not clear if that call prompted the wellness check.

Gentry spoke with Battaglia on the phone several times during the standoff, and told the Fayetteville paper “we almost got him out of the house once.”

About 6:45 p.m., there was a barrage of gunfire. Law enforcement didn’t enter the home for almost four more hours.

That is when they found Battaglia’s body. The Fayetteville Observer reported the SBI confirmed that Battaglia was shot, and did not take his own life.

He was the father of three young children, two with his ex-wife and one with Luce.

 
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