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Valley Marine's Descent Stopped by President Obama

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Valley veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq -- is now facing criminal charges for robbing two banks, but he has support from the highest office in the United States.

The man you see in his Marine blues here and the man caught on camera robbing two banks in two days, are one in the same. But the way Marco Lopez tells it, they're also two very different people.

"That guy was me physically," he said. "Wasn't me mentally."

To explain the bank robberies, though, Marco points back to the uniform. When American ground troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Clovis West graduate was in front of the front lines. Part of a Marine reconnaissance unit, his job was to seek out ambushes ahead of the main division.

"We didn't see it as dangerous at the time because we were just going through it," Marco said. "But now, looking back, you realize it was pretty, it was very life-threatening."

"One time he called me and I was at the car wash and there was an explosion," said his father, Art Lopez. "He goes, 'Ah crap. Dad, I got to go.'"

Marco survived several close calls and after two tours of duty, he came home, but he still wasn't safe. His family noticed slow changes in his personality.

"[It was] hard for him to focus or concentrate on a conversation," said his mother, Brigitte Lopez. "[He] seemed very distracted almost, like, he was there looking at you, but he wasn't listening."

Marco's descent accelerated in 2011. His parents say he became reckless and his mother believes he was passively suicidal. Now 27, he moved back in with his parents, but couldn't shake the feeling that danger was always close.

"[I was] checking the doors, checking the locks, going as far as going outside in the middle of the night," he said.

"Did you have an idea of why you were doing that?" an Action News reporter asked him.

"No," he said. "There's really no clear idea of why. Obviously I thought there may have been a threat, but there wasn't."

Doctors at the VA hospital eventually diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. He was committed to the hospital's psych ward, but the staff only kept him in the hospital for six days, despite his mother's urging. Which brings us back to the banks.

Less than a month after his committal, Marco robbed the Wells Fargo at Friant and Fresno. The next day, he robbed the State Center Credit Union in Clovis. He was unarmed and the tellers he hit say he was polite, but Marco says he remembers very little.

"That whole week was a big blur for me mentally," he said.

Marco landed in jail and his mental state declined even further. It took help from a very unexpected source to turn his life around.

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