Mother of murdered soldier proud her son helped foil terror plot

Mother of murdered soldier proud her son helped foil terror plot
SEATTLE -- To know Private First Class Michael Roark is to walk in his shoes; dust-colored, lace-up army boots his mother's partner will occasionally wear in honor and in tribute to soldier, who grew up in Marysville.

"He loved those boots," Roark's mother, Tracy Jahr, said, sitting at the kitchen table of her Snohomish County home, the shoes next to her right arm. "We took them to the beach with us, so we could walk in the sand with them."

Roark, 19, found no greater joy than in wearing the boots - part of his uniform he proudly donned as a soldier based in Fort Stewart, GA, Jahr said.

"I'm immensely proud of him for standing up for what he knew was right," she added.

But where Roark, a Western Washington native, stood up most for his country wasn't in battle. Instead, prosecutors believe it was on the homefront. Investigators believe Roark knew of a domestic terror plot hatched by four other soldiers he'd met on base, and that knowledge ultimately led to his murder.

"He had just told me that he had met this person and that (the person) had a lot of money," Jahr said, recalling a conversation she'd had with her son last fall. "My mom's radar went up just a little bit and I said, 'Well, who is this person? Where is he from? Where does he live? Tell me more about him.'"

The news didn't sit well with Jahr and eventually led Roark to leave the Army in December. Two days later, prosecutors say, the man with the money, along with three other soldiers, led Roark and his girlfriend into the woods near the Army post and shot Roark in the head, killing him.

On Monday, prosecutors in Georgia told a judge that Roark's murder was part of an attempt to cover up a domestic terror plot that four Army soldiers had hatched. The alleged plot involved stockpiling assault weapons, bombing a dam in Washington state, and ultimately assassinating President Barack Obama, among other plans.

"It's not real," Jahr said, "because it can't possibly be your child that's been killed. It was devastating. It was devastating."

Prosecutors in rural Long County, near the sprawling Army post Fort Stewart, said the militia group of active and former U.S. military members spent at least $87,000 buying guns and bomb components.

"This domestic terrorist organization did not simply plan and talk," prosecutor Isabel Pauley told a Superior Court judge. "Prior to the murders in this case, the group took action. Evidence shows the group possessed the knowledge, means and motive to carry out their plans."

One of the Fort Stewart soldiers charged in the case, Pfc. Michael Burnett, also gave testimony that backed up many of the assertions made by prosecutors. The 26-year-old soldier pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter, illegal gang activity and other charges. He made a deal to cooperate with prosecutors against the three other soldiers.

Prosecutors said the group called itself F.E.A.R., short for Forever Enduring Always Ready. Pauley said authorities don't know how many members it had.

Burnett, 26, said he knew the group's leaders from serving with them at Fort Stewart. He agreed to testify against fellow soldiers Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, identified by prosecutors as the militia's founder and leader, and Sgt. Anthony Peden and Pvt. Christopher Salmon.

All are charged by state authorities with malice murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony. A hearing for the three soldiers was scheduled Thursday.

Prosecutors say Roark, 19, served with the four defendants in the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and became involved with the militia. Pauley said the group believed it had been betrayed by Roark, who left the Army two days before he was killed, and decided the ex-soldier and his girlfriend needed to be silenced.

"Justice will be served for them. I do not wish (the other soldiers) well. I do not forgive them," Jahr said.

While forgiveness may be impossible for a mother who has buried her son, honoring him is not. His ashes hang in a cross around her neck, so he will always be close to her heart.

"He died serving his country," Jahr said. "He wasn't in a war. He wasn't killed by the enemy. He was killed by his own people."