Families Fight for Purple Hearts - February 21, 2012

What do you know about the Purple Heart? Who should it be awarded to? And why? Two Arkansas families say their loved ones deserve the military honor. Our US{}Senators and Representatives agree. So why hasn't it happened? Here's what we found out.

It was a story that caught the attention of news outlets around the world. Two men in uniform shot while standing outside a little rock recruiting office. Other soldiers there tried to revive Private William Long while Private Quinton Ezeagwula pretended to be dead until the shooter left.

"I{}thought the worst," said Eseagwula. "I tried to grab my phone and call my mother because{}I though it was over."

Ezeagwula survived. Private Long did not.

"There are good days," said Long's father, Daris Long. "And those are the days you can think of the happy things. And then there are the days , that it's just a deep void."

Within 12 minutes, police arrested the shooter, Abdulhakim Muhammad. He told police he was a "practicing Muslim" and that he was "mad at the{}US military because of what they had done to Muslims in the past." He said that he "would have killed more soldiers if they had been in the parking lot."

The state charged Muhammad with capital murder and attempted capital murder. He avoided the death penalty by striking a plea deal in the middle of his trial. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole with 11 more life sentences and an additional 180 years in prison in what appeared to be an open and shut case.

But the family members of the two victims don't see it that way. They say there is still an unresolved matter surrounding one of the military's highest honors... the purple heart.

The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the president to military members who are wounded or killed.

In 1984, an executive order amended the eligibility requirements to include wounds that happen after 1973 that are "a result of an international terrorist attack against the United States."

In fact, military members that were killed in the pentagon during the attacks of 9-11 were awarded Purple Hearts.

But this crime is considered nothing more than a homicide.

"This wasn't street crime. This was not a drive by shooting," said attorney Tre Kitchens. "This was an enemy combatant who had been trained to be a terrorist in Yemen, who had been arrested in Yemen with bomb-making materials and a fake Somali passport and held in a Yemeni jail."

Tre Kitchens is representing the families for free in hopes of helping them get their loved ones the recognition he believes they deserve.

"This is about what our federal government has done for two soldiers, one who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and one who is still paying for his country now. And they've been shoveled aside, they've been cast off and these families have been ignored. And it's wrong," said Kitchens.

We asked all of Arkansas' delegation... and they all agree, Purple Hearts are deserved.

"The facts are pretty clear," said US Representative Tim Griffin. "The guy admitted it. I don't know what else he would have to do to convince us that what he did was an international act of terrorism."

So why no purple hearts for Long and Ezeagwula?

We went to the Secretary of the Army. We were told the Army "does not make that determination" and to contact Homeland Defense. That agency sent us to the Department of Justice. DOJ said the Defense Department could answer our questions... but we were sent back to the Army... which is where we started.

Bottom line is it's not considered an act of terrorism since it was prosecuted by the state.

"Whether the federal government chooses to proceed is up to them and it'd be within their rights to do it. And I'd be supportive of any effort in that regard," said Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley.

Daris Long, a career military man himself who grew up in Afghanistan, says the federal government was quick to call attempted attacks terrorism, like the new year's eve bomb scare in Times Square or the Moroccan man who tried to blow up the nations capitol just days ago.

"I firmly believe that if you try and fail in this country, you'll be arrested and charged federally. But if you kill someone in the country under the banner of jihad, it will not be in a federal court," said Daris Long.

Difficult for the families to understand. As is trying to figure out why it hasn't happened.

"If he had not been in a military uniform. If he had not been serving his country that day. The man wouldn't have been shot by an enemy combatant. But he was, and he did. And it's time for the government to make it right," said Kitchens.

"No, my son will not be able to wear the Purple Heart," said Daris Long. "But should it not be that his sacrifices recognized for what it was? Should it not be that the pain Quinton feels every single day from his wounds? The bullet that he carries in there? In his body still.. fragments that went through my son and into Quinton... not count for something? That's where it needs to be."

Lawmakers hope to see congress approve amended versions of their legislation. Meantime the{}US attorney and the FBI say it is a matter they are still looking into.


Senator Mark Pryor

Representative Steve Womack

Representative Mike Ross

Representative Rick Crawford


Email Correspondence

Department of Defense

Secretary of the Army

Department of Justice

Department of Homeland Security

The White House