Widow of 'American Sniper' Chris Kyle endures with parents' help
By Justin Runquist | The (Portland) Oregonian | Published: March 3, 2014
Everything has changed for Taya Kyle in the year since the death of her famed husband, Chris Kyle, a legendary rifleman known as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history.
In the months since her husband was gunned down by a fellow veteran, Kyle, the daughter of Lake Oswego, Ore., Mayor Kent Studebaker, has found herself grappling for peace, privacy and a sense of normalcy. She's contended with numerous lawsuits and an upcoming Hollywood adaptation of her husband's life — all while continuing to grieve her loss.
As a Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle recorded 160 confirmed kill shots, and his story gained widespread national attention through his best-selling book "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History."
Last February, Kyle was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range while trying to help a fellow Iraq War veteran cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not long before his death, Chris Kyle, 38, agreed to finally leave the battlefield and return home to fill the void left in the lives of his wife and two young children. His autobiography became immensely popular but also controversial.
Before Chris Kyle's death, former wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, filed a defamation suit over a passage of Kyle's book that details an alleged bar fight after a funeral. And now, Taya Kyle's lawyer, Larry Friedman, says she's involved with two other lawsuits putting her at odds with Craft International, the sniper and security training company her husband founded.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has been working on bringing "American Sniper" to the big screen, with Bradley Cooper playing Kyle. Steven Spielberg originally was billed as director, but he dropped the project over budgetary issues, and Warner Bros. got Clint Eastwood to step in instead.
Concerned that any public statements could be used against her in court, Taya Kyle declined to speak with The Oregonian about the past year of her life. Instead, her father sat down for an interview, detailing the heavy toll his son-in-law's death has taken on the family.
"Everything's different," Studebaker said. "It's changed radically, because Taya doesn't have a husband, and she and the kids have to go through the grieving process."
Studebaker and his wife, Kim, flew to Texas last winter to spend time with Taya Kyle and the children at their home in a small town about 30 miles south of Dallas. For the first few months, the kids — now 9 and 7 years old — were kept out of class and were homeschooled by Kim Studebaker.
Taya Kyle coped by keeping busy. She's often traveled for speaking engagements about her husband, the military and patriotism, Studebaker said. She's also worked on marketing her husband's name and legacy through a symbol of a frog skeleton, created to emulate some of Chris Kyle's tattoos as a tribute to him and other fallen Navy SEALs.
But after a while, staying busy wasn't enough to help her heal, Studebaker said. "I think she's realized that that isn't the solution," he said. "So, she takes time to herself, thinks about it, prays about it, talks to her friends."
The Kyles and Studebakers have also sought refuge in their Christian faith, Studebaker said. "We all have a strong faith in God, so that helps," he said. "It helps my daughter and her children to know that their father is in heaven."
Chris and Taya Kyle met 2001 at a San Diego bar and married shortly before the beginning of the Iraq War. He would end up deploying 10 times before finally leaving the battlefield after Taya gave him an ultimatum in 2009: Get out of the military or she and the kids would leave.
When their son-in-law was away, the Studebakers would visit their daughter once in a while, spending time with the grandchildren and helping take care of the house. Since the shooting, they've visited more often.
Sometimes, Kim Studebaker stays for months at a time. But the distance poses a challenge for Kent Studebaker, given the demands of being Lake Oswego's mayor. "I try not to miss the meetings — our council meetings are once every two weeks," he said. "I can take a week or 10 days (off), which I've done a couple of times this year."
Today, Taya Kyle's children are back in school and keeping busy with friends and extra-curricular activities. It helps, Studebaker said, but they continue to struggle with the loss. "It's not like they walk around with a cloud over their head every day," he said. "But every once in a while it hits."
It's also helped to have an outpouring of support from neighbors and friends in Texas and Oregon, Studebaker said. Whenever the family needs help, the community has been there.
"The communities that we reside in have been tremendous, and the people down in Texas have just been fantastic in their support of Taya and the kids," he said. "It's been great to have people that show they care and want the best for you."
As the family continues to grieve while trying to carry on, Chris Kyle's murder trial approaches. Defendant Eddie Routh made a court appearance in Stephenville, Texas, earlier this month for a pre-trial hearing.
He's scheduled to appear in another pre-trial hearing on March. 7, and the trial is set for May.