Houston News & Search
When Jimmy Moriarty brought up the idea of enlisting in the Army to become a member of the elite Special Forces, his father was skeptical.
“He’s the world sweetest kid, but they’re just going to eat him for breakfast,” Houston attorney James Moriarty recalled thinking to himself about his son and namesake.
“In hindsight, I was such an idiot,” Moriarty said.
Jimmy Moriarty qualified for the Special Forces and made it though several other demanding training programs during his three years as a Green Beret. Now, the still angry and grieving elder Moriarty is on his own mission – more critical than any he undertook as a combat Marine in Vietnam or later as a high-powered lawyer going up against corporate giants like Shell Chemicals and DuPont.
“I want to know who killed my son and why,” he said.
On Nov. 4, his only son, Staff Sgt. James Moriarty, 27, was one of three Special Forces soldiers fatally ambushed by a guard at the front gate of the austere and isolated King Faisal Air Basein Jordan, about 190 miles east of the nation’s capital, Amman.
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Photo: Susan Walsh, STF
Jimmy was part of a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha – or A Team – assigned to train Syrian rebels at a weapons range about 3 miles away. His A team had been there about a month. He already had a tour of duty in Jordan under his belt.
The gate guard, a Jordanian soldier identified in an Army investigation as Cpl. al-Tawayha and by Jordanian officials as M’aarek Abu Tayeh, attacked when their convoy of four pickup trucks rolled up to the base around noon.
Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe, 30, and Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen, 27, were in the first truck. Jimmy and a fourth Green Beret who survived were in other vehicles. McEnroe was killed at the scene, while Lewellen and Jimmy died of gunshot wounds while they were medevaced to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman.
From the outset, James Moriarty has believed Jordan, an ally of the U.S. in the war against terrorist organizations like ISIS, has not been honest about what happened.
“Our ‘friends’ don’t murder our children,” he said.
Even as a little boy, Jimmy could not be pressured into something he didn’t want to do – or convinced not to doing something he had his mind set on.
“It was hardheadedness and a steel will,” his father recalled.
After graduating in 2007 from Strake Jesuit in Houston, Jimmy went to the University of Texas in Austin. It was while studying economics at UT that he began to seriously consider the military.
He tried, and failed, to get into a program while at UT that would have resulted in him becoming a Marine Corps officer. Growing up as the son of a successful lawyer, he was friendly and cheerful, but a stranger to adversity. Also, he had the kind of physique found on someone who spent a lot of time at college keggers – a “dad bod,” as his father put it.
“I don’t know if it was grades or fitness,” his father said. “I was fine with him going into the Marines as an officer, but I wasn’t going to be fine with him going into anything as enlisted.”
But Jimmy later pinned his hopeson a program that would allow him to enlist and go directly into Green Beret training after boot camp.
“That was it,” Moriarty said. “It was like throwing a red cape in front of a bull.”
After completing his Special Forces training courses, Jimmy was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky. It is focused on the Middle East, and Jimmy, a weapons specialist, learned Arabic like the others on his A Team.
“He was the quintessential Green Beret. He strived to be good at everything,” said a Special Forces soldier who served with Jimmy and asked not to be identified because he’s currently on military operations.
“Every time we did something, like cross training, he was always up front and taking notes,” the Green Beret said. “He was a hard worker and no bull-shitter.”
Jimmy and the Green Beret both attended the Special Forces’ grueling combat diver school in Key West, Fla.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was six weeks long of sucking Monday through Friday,” he said. “That’s when I first got to know him. When you’re doing it together, you know you can just keep going.”
He said Jimmy wanted to be part of something bigger than himself and that was what led him into Special Forces.
“There are still times when I say, ‘Oh, I wish he was here.’ “
Melissa Moriarty liked bragging about her younger brother, who was in such an elite military unit. But it wasn’t something Jimmy advertised.
“He didn’t talk about it, and if you looked at him, you’d never know he was in the military,” she said. “He wasn’t one of those guys who used military jargon. He didn’t say, ‘Oh-seven-hundred hours’ when he meant ‘7 o’clock.’ ”
During one of his leaves in Houston, Jimmy ran a half-marathon and clocked in a time of 1 hour 28 minutes.
“And he was out drinking the night before,” Melissa said. “It was spectacular to see how fast he could run.”
It wasn’t until she talked to some of Jimmy’s comrades at his funeral that she grasped the dangerousness of her brother’s military career.
“He was never the type to complain about anything,” she said.
James Moriarty was driving back to his office after a business meeting when he heard a National Public Radio news report that mentioned three U.S. Army trainers had been shot in Jordan. Although his son wasn’t named, Moriarty passed the word to family members to start working the phones.
At 9 p.m., Melissa heard from her mother in Kerrville, where Army officers made the official notification.
Moriarty was outraged. “I was happy he was in Jordan. He was supposed to be safe. It wasn’t a combat zone.”
In late February, Moriarty went to FBI headquarters in Washington to watch a security video taken at the Jordanian base. It showed what happened, he said, and is proof that his son and the other American soldiers did nothing to instigate the shootout.
It was difficult to watch the video, Moriarty said, but necessary to understand what his son went through in his last few minutes.
“If I have to watch the video 5,000 times, I’ll watch it,” he said. “Jimmy would do it for me and I’ll do it for him.”
On the dining room table at his west Houston townhouse, Moriarty spread out a diagram of where his son was shot. He traced the road Jimmy’s convoy took from the weapons range to the base.
M’aarek Abu Tayeh was in the concrete guardhouse when the first American truck rolled up and stopped. The Green Berets wore civilian clothes and carried pistols – part of their standard “light footprint” approach during sensitive missions – but Abu Tayeh was clad in body armor and carried an M-16 rifle.
“Everybody knew who they (the Americans) were,” Moriarty said.
Without warning, Abu Tayeh opened fire – killing McEnroe and mortally wounded Lewellen.
“Within seconds of coming under fire, Staff Sgt. Moriarty and another soldier exited the third and fourth vehicles,” the Army said in its investigation.
Jimmy and the surviving Green Beret yelled out in Arabic that they were friendly, but Abu Tayeh continued firing as he walked among the U.S. trucks.
“While the other soldier maneuvered to gain a better position, Staff Sgt. Moriarty stood and fired his pistol directly” at Abu Tayeh, the Army said. His actions “enabled the remaining soldier to maneuver and engage (Abu Tayeh) and seriously wound him.”
The Army said Jimmy acted with great valor by placing himself in harm’s way. He was awarded several posthumous decorations, including the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal.
American and Jordanian officials both say have found no evidence leading them to conclude Abu Tayeh killed Jimmy and the other Green Berets because he was “turned” by terrorist organizations.
Moriarty contends Jordan’s government has lied from the beginning about what happened to his son and the others.
Moriarty remains angry that almost a dozen Jordanian soldiers were nearby and failed to respond when Abu Tayeh began shooting. The U.S. Army said Jordanian military officers at the base also prevented other American soldiers from assisting their fellow Green Berets – ostensibly because they feared for their safety.
“They just sat there and watched it happen,” Moriarty said.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, officials from Jordan’s embassy in Washington said they have nocomment about the case other than what has been previously reported. An embassy spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the incident is being investigated as a crime.
Abu Tayeh went into a coma after he was shot but has recovered. He remains in custody. According to Moriarty, he will be tried for not following the proper rules of engagement, not murder.
“That son-of-a-bitch knew he was killing Americans and did it deliberately,” Moriarty said. “This guy attacked like a trained, competent military guy.”
On the day before his son’s Dec. 5, 2016, funeral, Moriarty received a Facebook video message from someone he did not know – the wife of a Maryland state trooper. Her husband had arranged for an honor guard to accompany Jimmy’s body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to Arlington National Cemetery – about 100 miles away. He had no idea what to expect and broke down in tears when he saw the video.
“There were firemen and policemen everywhere,” Moriarty said. “There were kids standing out on the side of the road in the freezing weather. They were honoring somebody they didn’t even know.”
At that point, Moriarty realized how many lives had been touched by his son.
“I just bawled like a baby,” he said.
In April, Moriarty’s family received a letter from King Abdullah II of Jordan. It formally acknowledged that Jimmy and the other Green Berets did nothing to provoke the attack.
“I can assure you that justice will take its full course and the perpetrator of the attack will be held fully accountable,” the letter stated.
However, Jimmy’s father remains dissatisfied.
“If these are our friends, we don’t need enemies,” Moriarty said.
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