"We are children! We are children!" was one victim's last phrase before being killed in a shooting spree as American Staff Sergeant Robert Bales left sixteen Afghan civilians dead, according to witness testimonies.
Seven Afghan witnesses from the Kandahar province testified over a live video link to the judge at a Washington State military courtroom. They recalled chilling details of the rampage, which claimed the lives of nine children and seven adults at two Afghan villages on March 11, 2012.
The witnesses recounted the identities of those who lived in the villages, listing those killed. The victims' bodies were buried quickly under Islamic tradition, and no forensic evidence was available to show the number killed.
The youngest witness was a thirteen-year-old Sadiquallah. He described being awakened by loud screams that an American had "killed our men." He then went to hide in a storage room with another boy, ditching behind the curtain. A bullet ricocheted off his head, fracturing his skull.
"I was hiding behind the curtains. A bullet hit me," Sadiquallah told the court. He also said the killer had a gun and a light, but he could not identify the man.
His friend was shot in the thigh and also survived. He is to testify later.
Quadratullah, Sadiquallah's older brother, meanwhile, was hiding with other children in a different part of the house. When the killer found them, the kids yelled "We are children! We are children!" Quadratullah testified.
Haji Mohammed Naim, the boys' father, was the first person shot at their residence. He told the court that he was woken up by dogs barking and shots being fired, after which he saw the shooter climb over a compound wall.
"He just started shooting me," Naim said.
Faizullah, one of the eldest sons, told the judge that he was awoken by someone telling him about shooting at his father's compound. As he rushed to the residence, he found his father with a gunshot wound to the throat. One of Naim's daughters was also wounded, as were two neighboring siblings.
All five wounded survived, after being treated at a nearby base and then flown to a military hospital in Kandahar.
Khamal Adin, a witness from the second massacre site, the village of Najiban, told the judge how he came to his cousin’s house on the morning after the rampage and found bodies piled together and burned.
Adin said he found an aunt dead in a doorway with a gunshot wound to her head. Inside, he found the bodies of six of his cousin's seven children, his wife, and other relatives. The fire that burned the bodies was out by then, but he said he could still smell smoke.
When Adin began presenting his testimony, Bales moved from his seat to be closer to the monitor. Neither at that time or at any other moment of the hearing did he give any discernible reaction to the stories he heard.
The court then asked Adin to describe the injuries. He said: "Everybody was shot on the head… I didn't pay attention to the rest of the wounds."
Bales was not expected to testify, as he has not entered a plea. His defense team says their client has a post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury while on duty in Iraq.
The formal hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is needed to determine whether the 39-year-old father of two will face a court-martial, as he has been charged with premeditated murder.
According to the prosecutor, Bales drank whiskey and watched an action movie before leaving the military base twice to carry out the killings – the deadliest committed by an American soldier during the Afghan war. If convicted he faces execution.
Prosecutors say Bales divided his shooting spree into two episodes – attacking one village, returning to the base and then leaving again to assault another.
In between his acts, he is alleged to have woken a comrade to tell him about the first massacre, that soldier testified, but believing it to be a hoax, he went back to sleep.
Two Afghan National Army guards also recalled a figure outside the base on the night of the killings. One guard remembered that a man had arrived at the base and did not stop even after he was asked three times to do so. Later in the night, the second guard said, he saw a soldier leave the base — laughing as he went out. Neither of them could tell if it was Bales.
It was revealed on Saturday that Afghan witnesses claimed that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was not alone during his shooting rampage.
Special Agent Leona Mansapit of the Criminal Investigations Command testified in court that one of the witnesses to the massacre saw at least two American soldiers on the scene.
A woman whose husband was shot and killed recalled seeing two soldiers in her house. One soldier restrained her while the other shot her husband dead.
Another witness claimed he heard English being spoken outside his house while the massacre took place.
Days after the massacre took place, several sources speculated that Bales was not alone during the killings, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The hearings are scheduled to last until November 16.