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Gavin Long’s stepfather: ‘What in the hell happened?’

This image of Gavin Long is from a video posted on YouTube on July 10. Long ambushed law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, La., one week later.
This image of Gavin Long is from a video posted on YouTube on July 10. Long ambushed law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge, La., one week later. The Associated Press

When Gavin Eugene Long returned from Iraq, his stepfather remembers asking him what he had experienced overseas.

But the young man, who was a Marine sergeant and data network specialist there for nearly eight months in 2008, never said.

“He’d say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ ” Carl Woodley of Kansas City told The Star on Friday. “He didn’t see combat, but he was over there. It was all around him.”

In the days since Long hunted down and killed three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., and wounded three others, friends and family have questioned his five years in the military — especially his time in Iraq — and wondered what impact it had on him. One of his closest friends told the newspaper that Long wasn’t the same when he left the military in 2010.

And Long’s mother, Corine Woodley, told a national talk show host that her son said he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But she said Gavin — who she said worked in a trailer “on the combat field” in Iraq — was turned away.

Corine Woodley has a document from the VA that says, “We determined that the following conditions were not related to your military service.” Among those: injuries to his right bicep and both shoulders, asthma and PTSD.

“I urged him to go back,” she told PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley in a show televised Thursday night. “Because I noticed after each (police-involved) shooting, it was getting more intense.”

The Veterans Health Administration said records show the agency had a “number of contacts” with Long starting in 2008. The last encounter, according to a statement sent to The Star, was in August 2013. Because of privacy laws, the agency said it couldn’t disclose additional information.

Corine Woodley told Smiley that her son told her he would not continue to pursue help from the VA because “they do not care about anything except the 1 percent. He said, ‘They are not going to do anything.’ 

A VA report July 7 dealing with mental illness and suicides among veterans said the department is looking to ensure “same-day access for veterans with urgent mental health needs ... by the end of calendar year 2016.” The report said more than 1.6 million veterans received mental health treatment in fiscal 2015.

Long attacked the officers on Sunday, his 29th birthday. Carl Woodley said he remembered the birthday that morning but had dozed off and had yet to reach out to his stepson, who remained close to him even after he and Long’s mother divorced in 2008. Around 4 p.m., Carl Woodley received a call from his ex-wife.

“Did you hear what happened to Gavin?” Corine Woodley asked him. She reportedly found out about her son in a phone call from the FBI while she was out shopping. Agents asked to meet with her, according to her interview with Smiley.

Carl Woodley said he was devastated by the details of the attack in Baton Rouge.

“I’m not one to shed tears,” he said. “But I’ve shed tears.”

In Baton Rouge, funerals have begun for the three officers. One of the wounded officers, shot in the head and stomach, remained in critical condition Friday afternoon.

Three police officers were killed and several others injured Sunday in Baton Rouge, La. Police have identified the shooter as Gavin Long, a Grandview High School graduate. Long was shot and killed in the shootout. (Submitted video from Baton Rouge

‘They followed me’

The last time Carl Woodley saw his stepson was about two months ago.

Long had ordered Woodley some cleansing vitamins. When Woodley went to pick them up, the two visited for about 1 1/2 hours. Long showed his stepfather photos from a trip to Africa and talked about how pretty it was.

It was while he was in Africa that he wrote three self-published books — under the name Cosmo Setepenra — about self-empowerment and how to be a strong man. He also had websites where he advertised himself as a life coach, nutritionist and spiritual leader.

Woodley thought Long was just playing around when he adopted the new identity.

“A lot of people do that. They come up with a nickname and say, ‘Just call me this,’ ” Woodley said. “I didn’t think he was serious.”

And Woodley didn’t know anything about Long filing documents in Jackson County in May 2015 declaring himself part of the Washitaw Nation of Mu’urs, a black sovereign citizen group.

Corine Woodley, who works for the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Center for Behavioral Medicine, told Smiley that her specialty is “psych.”

She said her son told her he thought he was being followed by the CIA. She said she detected he was a bit paranoid and thought “that somebody is trying to stop him from progressing, that somebody is trying to stop him from educating people.”

When he returned from Africa, she said, he told her, “Mom, I tried to leave and go to Africa, but it is still happening. They followed me over there.”

She also told Smiley that after each fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer, her son would rent a car and travel to that city to pass out his books. He wanted young black people to stand up, she said.

“Each time he would come back,” she said. “I definitely expected him to come back this time.”

Hours after five Dallas police officers were killed and six others injured on July 7, Long drove into Texas. His journey from Kansas City would take him to Dallas and then Houston before he went on to Baton Rouge.

In Dallas, he visited a close friend, Felix Omoruyi. The two had known each other since their middle school years in Grandview.

Omoruyi could tell that Long was angry about police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. Long watched the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge over and over again on a big-screen television.

The next day, Long passed out his books inside at least two black barbershops. He preached about taking a stand. In both shops, he pulled out a wad of cash and declared that he knew the recipe for making money. One shop owner said Long appeared intelligent and driven, dedicated to his cause.

Days later, surveillance video in Baton Rouge captured Long, clad in black and armed with two rifles and a handgun, moving methodically and tactically around buildings to shoot more officers.

In a video posted online, Gavin Long cruised this stretch of Plank Road in Baton Rouge, not far from the scene of the Alton Sterling shooting, which reportedly angered him.

‘It’s terrible’

Carl Woodley hears the details about his stepson’s last day and says none of it makes sense.

He knew Gavin as a man who was always respectful and never got angry. His stepson was extremely close to his mother and still connected to his siblings. He focused on nutrition and lifting weights. He’d drink gallons of water, Woodley said, and he steered clear of meat.

He told his stepfather that he wanted to be a teacher.

Woodley said Long never mentioned PTSD to him. Long only complained about headaches, and his stepfather told him he should get that checked out.

“I loved him like I do my own kids,” he said. “He was one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. I don’t understand this.

“I don’t know if he got messed up in the service or what. What in the hell happened?”

Woodley thinks about the families of the slain officers in Baton Rouge.

“They had children — it’s terrible,” he said. “I know what he’s done is wrong. Very wrong.

“It hurts me to my heart.”

The Advocate of Baton Rouge says this video shows Gavin Eugene Long driving around the streets of Baton Rouge. It was taken sometime in the days before Long shot and killed three law law enforcement officers in the summer of 2016.

Ian Cummings contributed to this story.

Laura Bauer: 816-234-4944, @kclaurab

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc

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