SAN ANTONIO — The disruptive behavior and mental instability of an Air Force trainee and Army veteran was apparent long before he killed his commander and himself in Texas in April 2016, according to an Air Force investigative report.
Tech. Sgt. Steven Bellino was armed with two hand guns, a knife and 61 rounds of ammunition when he shot and killed 39-year-old Lt. Col. William “Bill” Schroeder at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, then turned the gun on himself.
Shroeder, 39, the commander of the 342nd Training Squadron, was an Air Force 2017 Profiles in Courage honoree. When Bellino arrived at the squadron’s offices, the special operations weather officer quickly assessed the situation and put himself between Bellino and his first sergeant, saving her life, and perhaps the lives of other squadron members, while being fatally wounded.
He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in June 2016.
A career of contradictions
Bellino, who grew up in Parma, Ohio, entered the Army at 18.
In 1997, a handful of years into his Army career, Bellino admitted he had destroyed property, started fires, got involved in fights and broken rules that he found disagreeable, according to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations report obtained by the San Antonio Express-News under the Freedom of Information Act. He was arrested once, for removing air from tires in a parking lot, while based at Fort Bragg.
Nonetheless, Bellino fought with distinction in Afghanistan, learned Arabic and Spanish, and graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He served as an Army Ranger, Green Beret and a military contractor in Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia.
But he struggled to settle on a career and suffered increasingly bad symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to audio recordings, military records and an Air Force psychiatric evaluation.
He had a short stint as a special agent for the FBI then joined the Air Force in 2015. But he grew irritated with the highly competitive training at Lackland and returned to his parents’ home in Ohio for 10 days.
When he returned to Lackland, Bellino was charged with being absent without leave.
On April 5, 2016, he accepted an Article 15 other-than-honorable discharge — something he had resisted because he feared it would hurt his odds of entering another branch of the military or landing a civilian security job. Three days later, he burst into Schroeder's office, accused the squadron commander from Iowa of ruining lives, then shot and killed him.
Bellino's issues with Schroeder and other Air Force instructors followed a trend.
According to the report, a fellow soldier in his Ohio National Guard unit said Bellino "could function in society and in his unit" but that he "had an irrational hatred for certain people in positions of authority." Two soldiers in the unit agreed Bellino needed mental health treatment but there were no means at the time to refer soldiers for psychological tests without the commission of an explicit act. The rule has since changed.
Bellino "had to have somebody, an authority figure, to pit himself against," one soldier said, according to the OSI report.
Responding to the report, Bellino's twin brother, Mike Bellino Jr., called him "the ultimate soldier, warrior and hero."
An autopsy found that Bellino died by suicide at age 41. The Air Force investigative report indicates Bellino didn’t leave a suicide note, but that he wrote a farewell note in the August before his death.
“I do not like this world,” he wrote, “and I do not want to be a part of it any longer.”