A family friend of the CFB Shilo soldier charged in the death of Master Cpl. Jeffrey Walsh claims the friendly fire shooting was a tragic accident, one that led to Walsh dying in the arms of "best friend" Master Cpl. Robbie Fraser, now facing manslaughter charges. Former Shilo resident Winnie Green said she and her military husband were longtime friends and neighbours of Fraser, charged Monday with manslaughter and negligent performance of duty following the death of Walsh during a routine patrol outside Kandahar last Aug. 9.
Green said Fraser's wife, Kellie, shared the story of Walsh's death after her husband returned home from Afghanistan.
"She started crying and told me what had happened," said Green, who moved to Alberta with her husband last November following his retirement from the military.
Green, who described Fraser as a "decent, kind, wonderful father," said she was told Walsh and the other soldiers were packed tightly into the jeep when a gun was discharged.
At first, Fraser thought his friend's chest was on fire because of the smoke from the close-range shot, and tried to put out the fire, claimed Green. By the time Fraser realized what had happened, Walsh was dying in his arms, she said.
"When you think of your loved one being killed overseas, you almost think that he died alone, or that he didn't have anybody with him," said Green. "I just wanted the family to know that their son, when he died... he didn't die alone. Rob was right there with him." Green said she was shocked when she learned of the charges facing Fraser.
"To make an example of the young man who's already been completely destroyed, with having this happen to his best friend... these guys deserve better," she said.
Green said she "wouldn't have dared" speak up while her husband was still in the military, but felt comfortable doing so since his retirement.
Reached by phone in Shilo, Kellie Fraser confirmed the Greens had been neighbours, but declined to provide further comment.
Walsh's widow, Julie Mason, also spoke up in defence of Fraser yesterday. In an interview with the Brandon Sun, Mason said the military has made a mistake in laying charges against Fraser, whom she said was a good friend of her husband's.
"You know when you hear truth in your heart," Mason said. "I don't believe what they're doing to Rob is true at all. I don't believe that there's any justification what they're doing to this man. It's amazing that they can hold one person accountable."
Mason said she had heard talk of charges pending against Fraser, but she was shocked when she heard news of the manslaughter charge. She said she can't understand why the military has gone in this direction, and expressed sympathy for Fraser and his family.
"It was a very hard day. My heart ached all morning for him." The Canadian military has been tight-lipped about the whole affair, going so far as to order Fraser not to contact her in any way in the past eight months, Mason said. She visited Fraser last night to express her support, despite the orders.
"There's a line when enough is enough. I let him know I'm here for him, if I can change this path they are trying to take him down. I've already heard from people on base that are very upset about what is being done."
The Toronto Star reported Tuesday that Ben Walsh, father of Master Cpl. Walsh, had also contacted Fraser in what the father described as a routine chat. Walsh had been frustrated by the mystery surrounding his son's death and said his family will move on, but plan to follow the case.
While the military finally did provide some information to the Walsh family regarding the incident, Mason said there are still many more facts that have not been released. The Winnipeg Free Press Online Edition