LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After almost six years of letters, appeals and requests, an Arkansas soldier who was killed and another who was injured in a shooting outside of a Little Rock Army-Navy recruiting center in 2009 will be awarded Purple Hearts, several members of the Arkansas congressional delegation announced Thursday.
Pvt. William Long of Conway was killed and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded when Abdulhakim Muhammad opened fire on the soldiers on June 1, 2009, as they entered the recruiting station on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock. The announcement by U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton and Rep. French Hill marks the end of a long quest for the soldiers and their families, the delegation said.
Pvt. Long's father, Daris Long said he didn't "know how to act right now" when he was reached by phone late Thursday.
"It's been five years, eight months and 16 days since my son was killed. There really isn't any closure; there's that vacancy in your life for what could have been. I was adamant that this would not stand as just a drive by shooting in Arkansas. It was bigger than that," he said.
The determination that the soldiers could be awarded the medals for sacrifice while serving their country was made possible by language Boozman inserted in the National Defense Authorization Act. The measure allows Purple hearts to be awarded to military members killed or wounded in an attack that specifically targets them because they are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or is carried out by a foreign terrorist organization.
Before the law change, only military members injured, killed or who later died because of injuries obtained serving on foreign soil were eligible for the medal.
"There's an anger on how it was treated. It's upsetting that you have to enact laws to do the proper thing," he added. "The battlefield is here and it will be different in the future because of this."
A call to Ezeagwula's mother was not returned Thursday.
Tre Kitchens, an associate at the Brad Hendricks Law Firm in Little Rock, represented the families in many of the appeals filed over the last six years. Kitchens said Thursday that he ultimately was not responsible for the change that will allow the two soldiers to receive the medals and the benefits that come with them, but he was honored to have helped.
"The bullets are still in Mr. Ezeagwula. Every day, every step he takes he remembers that the U.S. thought he wasn't shot on the right piece of ground. Nothing will take that bullet out. Nothing will bring that young man back. But I'm gratified that their sacrifice is finally being honored," he said.
Cotton and Hill called the decision "long overdue." Boozman agreed in his statement, saying the two soldiers"rightfully deserve" the honor.
Muhammad is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to capital murder and attempted capital murder in the shootings that he said were in retaliation for U.S. policy in the Middle East.