CINCINNATI (AP) -- The soldier being held as a suspect in the gunning down of 16 Afghan civilians was remembered Saturday by people who knew him growing up in Ohio as a good-natured, smart student who was a key player on a high school football team that included a future NFL player.
Those who knew Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales as a teenager were stunned to hear him accused of the deadly shootings.
"I'm just terribly surprised that it would have come to that," said Jack Bouldin, a retired Norwood High School physical education teacher and basketball coach. "Just mind-boggling."
He described Bales as "fairly happy-go-lucky," a good student who enjoyed P.E.
Steve Berling was a teammate of Bales' in the early 1990s at the high school in Norwood, a mostly blue-collar Cincinnati suburb of some 20,000 people. Berling and Bouldin both said Saturday that they recognized Bales from the recent Army photo now in the news, and Berling recalled that Bales had joined the Army after an investment business didn't do well.
"This is some crazy stuff it it's true," Berling said of the Afghanistan allegations. He and Bales were all-league players on a team that starred running back Marc Edwards, who played for Notre Dame and NFL teams including the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Bales played offensive line and linebacker/defensive line in high school.
"He was a great guy with a huge heart," Berling said. He said Bales had a part-time job in high school helping care for an autistic young person, and made sure the youth got outside and took walks with him.
Bales was a team captain, and his leadership is described in a recent book by writer Aaron Smith about Edwards, titled: "Odyssey: From Blue Collar, Ohio to Super Bowl Champion." Edwards recounts being approached by Bales, who was disappointed when their coach moved the younger Edwards into his middle linebacker position and shifted Bales to nose tackle.
"I'd love to talk to you about different things I can help you with at middle linebacker," Edwards said Bales told him. Edwards said that showed him leadership and motivation.
"This guy was .... one of the stars of the team and he's sucking up his pride to help me out," Edwards said in the book.
Later in the book, Edwards recounted spending a weekend of playing golf and hitting pubs with Bales in Columbus a few years after high school.
Berling, who has an insurance agency, recalled Bales always having an interest in the military and war history. He was in an advanced placement history class with him and said Bales was far ahead of him in knowledge.
"I remember him and the teacher just going back and forth on something like talking about the details of the Battle of Bunker Hill," he said. "He knew history, all the wars."
He said Bales went on to Ohio State University studying business, and later worked handling investments but soured on that business when clients lost money during a market downturn, Berling said.
"I guess he didn't like it when people lost money," he said.
He said Bales came from a large family, with other brothers who played football.
Police in another Cincinnati suburb said it might be home to a person related to the U.S. soldier.
Authorities on Friday night patrolled a quiet neighborhood in Evendale, Ohio, and released a statement saying a relative of the soldier may live there. Police Chief Niel Korte asked reporters to refrain from identifying the resident out of worry the safety of that person and neighborhood would be jeopardized.
Contact the reporter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell