WASHINGTON -- The Army said Saturday it will launch a criminal investigation into the April 2004 death of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who was shot to death by fellow soldiers in Afghanistan in what previous Army reviews had concluded was an accidental shooting.
Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman, said the Defense Department office of inspector general had reviewed the matter at the Army's request and concluded that a criminal probe was warranted.
Members of the Tillman family were notified Friday, Curtin said. In the past, Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman Sr., and other family members have criticized the Army and its investigations.
"We are obligated to answer the family's questions, as we are with all grieving families," Curtin said.
Curtin said the scope of the new investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command had not yet been determined in detail.
A Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the new investigation has not formally begun, said it would focus on possible charges of negligent homicide.
A second Pentagon official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said no specific soldier is under investigation at this point. He said the CID will conduct an overall death investigation and "let the facts take them where they may."
The official said that the CID's probe -- the fifth formal investigation into the incident -- will focus on the cause of Tillman's death, not necessarily on whether the previous investigations were done correctly. It is the first criminal probe.
"It obviously could lead to one of three things," Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at the Washington College of Law at American University, told The New York Times. "Was there a negligent homicide? Was there a dereliction of duty? Was there a cover-up?"
Tillman's mother, Mary, told The Washington Post on Saturday that the criminal investigation should have been launched at the onset.
"The military has had every opportunity to do the right thing and they haven't," she said. "They knew all along that something was seriously wrong and they just wanted to cover it up."
Tillman's father told the Post that he questioned whether another investigation would provide any more answers.
"I think it's another step," he said. "But if you send investigators to reinvestigate an investigation that was falsified in the first place, what do you think you're going to get?"
Two initial fact-finding investigations were conducted at the unit level right after Tillman's death. He was a member of the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. A third investigation was conducted by U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and a concurrent investigation was done by the Army's Safety Center.
Tillman, 27, died on April 22, 2004, when he was struck by gunfire during a firefight along a canyon road near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Army said at the time that the barrage of bullets came from enemy fire.
A report by the Army later found that troops with Tillman knew at the time that friendly fire had killed the football player. Officers destroyed critical evidence and concealed the truth from Tillman's brother, also an Army Ranger, who was nearby, the report found.
More than three weeks after a memorial service in San Jose, Calif., the Army announced May 29, 2004, that friendly fire -- rather than an enemy encounter -- caused Tillman's death. However, even at the time of the memorial, top Army officials were aware that the investigation showed the death had been caused by an act of "gross negligence," the report said.
Despite the Army's findings, the officer who prepared the Special Operations Command report, Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones, concluded there was no official reluctance to report the truth. Army officials have acknowledged that they should have better handled the information they released on Tillman's death.
The Defense Department's inspector general started a review of the matter last August, in the wake of complaints from the Tillman family about how the matter had been handled.
Tillman joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks even though he had a multimillion-dollar contract to play football for the Arizona Cardinals. He and his brother completed a tour in Iraq before going to Afghanistan.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.