Editor's note: On May 15, the Mirror received and then confirmed that the adjacent letter is from Nicholas Horner, who is charged with murdering two people in Altoona April 6. With the exception of deleting a phone number, the letter appears without editing.
Nicholas A. Horner, writing from Blair County Prison, is "sorry to all of Altoona" for the shootings that occurred in early April when he allegedly killed a high school senior and a retiree.
"I shoot 3 people, killing 2 and injuring 1," Horner wrote in a letter sent to the Mirror in mid-May.
Horner, an Iraqi War veteran, is repentant for the killings that took the lives of 19-year-old Scott Garlick, a senior at Hollidaysburg Area High School who was working at the 58th Street Subway, and 64-year-old Raymond Eugene Williams, who was walking to his mailbox two blocks away, and for injuries to Michele Petty, another Subway employee.
He called the events in the late afternoon of April 6 "a tragedy," and wrote, "no one looks at this" as an accident, "not even my lawyer."
His sense of remorse, he wrote, is overwhelming.
"This is so hard," he said. "I feel so guilty."
He said he doesn't want people to take it wrong, but he said, "I feel like I'm the fourth victim" because he has lost his children and said he is going to lose his wife.
Horner, who was receiving care at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, cited post-traumatic stress disorder as an issue.
"I just want people to watch for P.T.S.D. cases. There are so many of them. If this letter changes one person's life, I did something good," he wrote.
In a second letter to the Mirror, Horner wrote about what he experienced after three tours in Iraq - blackouts, depression, anxiety and anger issues.
The 28-year-old Johnstown-area native and graduate of Conemaugh Valley High School said he moved to the Altoona area to be closer to Van Zandt "so I could get help for my PTSD."
He said he didn't get enough attention at Van Zandt.
Representatives of the center said they cannot discuss Horner's medical condition but said the center treats hundreds of cases of PTSD each month.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, after conferring with Blair County victim-witness coordinator Susan Griep, said the families of the victims would have no comment about Horner's letters.
"I know the victims are not going to comment. There has been a lot of trauma as it is," he said. "We certainly do not view [Horner] as a victim in any way, shape or form."
As for Horner's apology, Consiglio said a lot of people express regret after getting caught.
"Now he's sorry," he said.
Blair County Deputy Assistant District Attorney Jackie Bernard, part of the prosecution team, directed her comments on behalf of the victims at Horner's alleged PTSD.
"There are millions who suffer PTSD. That in itself is not a defense in the state of Pennsylvania," she said.
In addition to Horner discussing PTSD in his letters, members of his family are scheduled to appear today on NBC's "Today" show to discuss his treatment for the disorder.
Many veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced the condition.
Cheryl Thompson, a spokeswoman for the medical center, said it offers a wide variety of services to deal with veterans' problems, including PTSD.
Lester Weiss, a licensed clinical social worker and PTSD therapist at Van Zandt, told the Mirror in April that 494 veterans suffering from PTSD were counseled at the center in March. They came from throughout the center's 14-county area.
He said referrals for counseling came from medical teams at the hospital, social workers and county veterans' representatives.
Weiss said social workers at the center perform assessments and are trained to provide a variety of treatments once the diagnosis is established. Treatments include individual and group therapy, family counseling and anger management.
Weiss said PTSD can be triggered by sights, sounds and smells. He said these "remembrances" can be so powerful in some cases that an individual may think he is in a combat situation and therefore could be dangerous.
When veterans first return to civilian life, their symptoms tend to come out through drinking, fighting, domestic quarrels, being on edge and having a difficult time calming down, he said.
Weiss also said some younger veterans believe it is a sign of weakness to seek help at the center or believe it could jeopardize their careers.
Just what part - if any - PTSD may have played in the local shootings remains a question. Consiglio said that at this point, prosecutors don't even know if Horner saw combat in Iraq.
Horner met for two hours Monday with a Hollidaysburg psychiatrist, and his preliminary hearing is tentatively set for June 26 before Magisterial District Judge Steven Jackson.
Horner's lawyer, David J. DeFazio, a veteran Pittsburgh defense attorney who has handled many homicide cases including those involving the death penalty, said he could not comment on Horner's mental state at this time.
DeFazio said part of any criminal case is not only what and when something occurred, but why it occurred. He said he intends to obtain the best medical and psychiatric expert he can find to examine Horner.
He said he was unaware that Horner was communicating with the news media or that members of Horner's family are to appear on "Today."
He said his standard advice to clients is, "The less said the better."
Horner's wife, Windy, said Tuesday she wanted to discuss the situation with her husband before speaking. She has established a Help Horner Web site, on which she wrote, "My husband is not a cold-blooded killer, a murderer. He is a loving husband, an excellent father and an unforgettable friend."
Horner misses his freedom.
"Jail is worse than Iraq. I was proud to be a soldier," he wrote in his second letter. "Here I'm nothing, and they make sure I know it."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.