NORWOOD, Ohio (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, a neighborhood leader and a key player on a high school football team that included a future NFL player.
They're stunned by accusations that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was involved in the deadly shootings and say it doesn't match the character of the teenager they knew.
"It's our Bobby. He was the local hero, even before he was in the Army," said Michael Blevins, who grew up down the street from Bales in a working-class neighborhood of Norwood, a mostly blue-collar Cincinnati suburb of some 20,000 people. "He was just a very stand-up man."
Bales was the youngest of five boys, raised under the structure of "God, country, family and you," said Blevins' sister, Michelle Caddell.
Bales was respectful of older residents, admonished troublemakers and loved children, even helping another boy in the area who had special needs.
"Bobby walked with him every day, really took care of him," Caddell said.
She and Blevins said their mother and other neighborhood residents were in disbelief and brought to tears by the allegations against Bales.
That shock reached beyond the neighborhood.
"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. 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 if 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.
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."
Bales went on to attend Ohio State University from 1993 to 1996 and majored in economics but did not graduate, according to the university.
Berling said Bales 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.
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