A bright light from Santa Fe senselessly extinguished with death of Army officer
By ROBERT NOTT | The Santa Fe New Mexican | Published: September 1, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — Daniel Lehman’s bedroom in the Eldorado house where he grew up is empty and dark now. But not so long ago, when he was a young St. Michael’s High School student who kept most of his hopes and dreams to himself, it was full of possibility.
It housed a bed, desk, bookshelf, dresser, globe, Rubik’s cube, trumpet, books, more books and awards he won from playing chess.
What those items offered Lehman was a door to the wide world beyond New Mexico, said his father, Santa Fe-based photographer Danny Lehman. He recalled Daniel as an introspective kid prone to studying current affairs, going for predawn jogs and playing games that involved strategy and planning.
But he had a creative side, too. Daniel’s mother, Laurie Lehman, still has a number of writing snippets Daniel penned.
“My journey is so beautiful,” he once wrote, “but no one has ever seen it.”
She also found a question the boy posed to himself in writing: “What would be the last thing you’d say to the world if you were going to die — not to a specific person, but to the whole world?”
His answer: “Goodnight, world — you beautiful, cursed, amazing, terrible thing flying through space.”
Lehman, a 28-year-old U.S. Army captain stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., bid goodnight to the world after he was shot to death in downtown Colorado Springs nearly one year ago. Police found his body at the end of a trail of blood around 7 a.m. on Sept. 15. They believe he was attacked about five hours earlier and some blocks away.
About a month later, police arrested Gilberto Chavez Jr. and charged him with first-degree murder. Colorado media reports at the time said police suspected Chavez was high on methamphetamine and believed someone was following him when he was walking in downtown Colorado Springs.
Police say Chavez, now 28, used a .22-caliber revolver to shoot Lehman as the military intelligence officer walked home from a nearby bar.
Chavez, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 30. Lt. James Sokolik, a spokesman for the Colorado Springs Police Department, said no information is being released about the case pending the start of the trial.
Still stunned by how one of Santa Fe’s brightest young lights could be dimmed so suddenly, senselessly, permanently, Lehman’s friends and family members have worked to make sense of it all. Mostly, they try to remember an unusual young man — a person thrilled to reach out to the world, but never let the world get to him — who seemed destined for great things.
“I think he always enjoyed life,” said his father. “I just wish he had more of it to enjoy.”
Ahead of the game
If childhood provides clues to adulthood, it’s not hard to see Lehman’s arc through life.
He was born Feb. 6, 1990, in Los Angeles to Laurie Chamberlain Lehman and Daniel George Lehman. The family moved to Santa Fe later that year. Travelers by nature and profession, the Lehmans took Daniel on many trips abroad, where he fostered an interest and love of foreign cultures and histories.
Matt Hyde, a childhood friend, said it was clear from an early age that Lehman was interested in solving problems, conducting strategy and serving in the military.
“He was always active, always competitive,” Hyde said. “When we played games riding bikes, he had to beat me. And he liked to play strategy games like Risk and Axis & Allies.”
Lehman also quickly developed an interest in mathematics, chess, physics and history, his father said.
“He didn’t get any of that from me,” Danny Lehman said. “I don’t know why some people are like that.”
As he grew older, Daniel Lehman became an honor roll student at St. Michael’s and volunteered at local libraries, as well as El Castillo, a retirement home in downtown Santa Fe. At an age when his peers were often out on the town, yukking it up in a park or in the drive-thru lane, he served juice and cookies to residents and engaged in chess games.
At home, he would spend hours patiently explaining math concepts to his younger brother, Jonathan Giles Lehman, who died in an accident in Alaska in 2012 at the age of 21.
When he was only 12, Daniel Lehman was selected as one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference in 2002 for his volunteer service.
“I get to do something I like to do and at the same time I get to give something special to someone else,” he told an interviewer that year.
Kimberly Walker, one of Lehman’s teachers at St. Michael’s High School, recalled a teen who could discuss world affairs with adults but was by no means dry. The student, she said, had “a wry sense of humor … who seemed to be very in tune with what was going on.”
Lehman was so curious about the world, he decided to study Chinese, so he took a year off from St. Michael’s and went to live with a family in China, learning Mandarin. Upon returning from China, he told his parents he wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy and become an Army officer.
He didn’t say why. Like so many other things he wanted to do, he just did it.
‘He would have made it to general’
Nominated to West Point by several New Mexico politicians, including Sen. Tom Udall, Lehman graduated in 2012 with a double major in nuclear physics and philosophy.
Classmate Elyse Ping Medvigy served on the academy’s debate team with Lehman — sometimes on the same side, sometimes on an opposing team. She didn’t like challenging him during these debates.
“Daniel was the guy you really feared going against,” she said. “He was the one who you always wanted on your team because he was so good at what he did.”
Medvigy could not remember a single time Lehman lost a debate. Even his jokes, she said, were well thought out and deliberate — a sign of a man focused on getting the job done, regardless of the challenges.
She understood why he went into military intelligence.
“There’s no other branch where you have to be so analytical and take the facts that are coming at you and interpret them into something that a commander can use on the battlefield,” she said. “Daniel had that talent.”
After graduation, Lehman was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and assigned to its military intelligence branch. He served in Afghanistan in 2013 — nobody seems to know what he did there and he didn’t talk about it — and later was promoted to captain.
After spending a year in Eastern Europe, he was stationed at Fort Carson as part of the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team.
Charles Ray Boone, who served with Lehman at Fort Carson, recalls an officer dedicated to his work and making things better for everyone around him. And he wasn’t afraid of his superior officers.
“We’d be receiving intelligence from higher headquarters, and he would analyze it and then tell them they were wrong and why they were wrong,” Boone said. “They were our bosses, but they accepted it because he was right and they knew he was right.”
Friends believe Lehman probably would have made a career out of the Army — “He would have made it to general,” said Boone — but when he came home, he never spoke about any aspect of his work to his parents.
“When he embraced his military intelligence lifestyle, it in turn embraced his whole life,” Laurie Lehman said.
He was so secretive, she said, that he once wrote, for no one in particular, “My life is so beautiful and no one knows it.”
Boone, who is no longer serving in the military but still lives in Colorado Springs, said Lehman rented an apartment or casita not far from where he was killed. Boone said he never visited the place — only because he spent five days a week working with him and, after work, they went their separate ways. Plus, he said, Lehman worked until 8 or 9 p.m. and often took work home with him.
His beautiful world was one few got to share.
The light fades
It’s been a year now, and the pain is still fresh for those who knew and loved Lehman. For his mother, the void has left her feeling “a little lost.”
For his dad, it hurts to think about the possibilities. His son could’ve been a general. But the truth is, he could have been almost anything. He was that sharp, that driven, that talented.
Danny Lehman said he was anxious to see how his son would turn out down the line.
“Now,” he said, “I won’t be able to.”
For his part, Boone doesn’t believe Daniel Lehman’s death is a loss just to friends and family. His unique, disciplined approach to work and life had a ripple effect on others — the kind that is difficult to calculate and impossible to replicate.
“It was a severe loss to our nation’s intelligence capabilities,” Boone said. “Without his superior ability to accurately predict a complex enemy, thousands of future soldiers will likely lose their lives in the next conflict.”
Lehman’s father agreed, though perhaps for different reasons. “I think our country lost someone important,” he said.
Rather than focus on the upcoming trial, friends and family members prefer to remember the good that preceded Sept. 15: the boy who was always thinking, ever curious, anxious to sleep outside in a hammock in the middle of winter and ready to climb any mountain.
Danny Lehman said that when he first heard about his son’s death, he thought it might somehow be tied to his work in military intelligence. Then, he came to accept it was “just a random act.”
He said it was not unusual for his son to take walks or jogs in the middle of the night. Laurie Lehman recalled that as a young teen, her son would sometimes jump on his bike around 4 a.m., before the sun rose, and ride it from Eldorado to St. Michael’s.
The dark did not scare Daniel Lehman.
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