In the wake of last Friday’s shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a photo emerged of a man claiming to be a Marine standing guard outside of an elementary school in California.
Twenty-five-year-old Craig Pusley told the Modesto Bee he was a sergeant in the Marine Reserve who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he was currently unemployed and using his reservist pay to support his wife and child. Pusley had stood guard outside Hughson Elementary School Wednesday wearing military fatigues. He returned the next day in civilian clothing but was gone by the middle of the morning when he was asked to leave by the district superintendent.
Pusley had, it turns out, partially fabricated his story about his Marine past. It turns out that while he did graduate from boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, but he was never deployed and did not attend military occupational school. He was never a sergeant in the Reserve and never made it past private first class, according to the Navy Times. He was instead a “basic Marine” and awarded the standard MOS 8000.
Pusley said he was inspired by Staff Sgt. Jordan Pritchard, a father of two who stood guard outside his children’s elementary school in Nashville. Pusley said he didn’t lie about his military service but that the reporter he first spoke to got it wrong.
“There’s a lot of fabrication to this story that didn’t come out of my mouth,” Pusley said. “All I know is that I talked to a Modesto Bee lady [Nan Austin], and everything went crazy.”
Pusley continued, “I feel horrible about this. My intention was for the kids. I don’t understand why everyone has to find a negative in every situation.”
Pusley didn’t explain why Austin reported that he had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan or why it continued to be reported by other media outlets. He said he was “deeply sorry” for the way everything spun out of control. Austin was unable to be reached, but her editor, Joe Kieta, said the Modesto Bee stood by her original report.
“I cannot emphasize enough how sorry I am that all of this has happened,” he said. “This was never supposed to happen.”
Pusley cracked his femur during boot camp but still made it to graduation. He took an unauthorized absence to go to a court hearing involving his ex-wife, saying he thought he had leave at the time. He didn’t and could be court-martialed because of it.
Marines are not have been allowed to wear their uniforms in public except in specific circumstances such as weddings or a military funeral, so Pusley would have been breaking the rules to do what he did Wednesday. The Marine Corps wouldn’t say if he would face any legal repercussions for lying about his past. Though his heart was in the right place, perhaps he should have found a different way to go about trying to protect the children of Hughson Elementary.
Until Austin comes forward, there is no way to know whether Pusley really did say that he was a sergeant who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan or if Austin was the one who lied.
UPDATE: A video from ModestoNews.org shows Pusley telling reporters that he is a sergeant in the Marine Corps who was on a reserve attachment and had received an injury and could no longer be on active duty. He didn’t want to talk about the injury, however. He also said that he had been in Afghanistan. You can watch the video below.
Do you think Pusley should face any legal action for fabricating his story?