NEW YORK - Even before the Army sent him to Afghanistan, supporters say, Pvt. Daniel Chen was fighting a personal war.
Fellow soldiers at a base in Georgia teased him about his Chinese name, crying out "Chen!" in an exaggerated Asian accent. They called him "Jackie Chen," a reference to the Hollywood action star Jackie Chan. People would ask him if he was Chinese, even though he was a native New Yorker.
At one point Chen, 19, wrote in his diary that he was running out of jokes to respond with.
Then he was sent overseas, and the hazing began: Soldiers dragged him across a floor, pelted him with stones and forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down, according to diary entries and other accounts cited by a community activist.
On Oct. 3, Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan with what the Army said was apparently a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On Wednesday, the Army announced charges against eight soldiers in his death, saying Chen was a victim of illegal hazing. Five of those accused were charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. The alleged offenses also included maltreatment, assault, and threats.
The military released few details of Chen's death. But family members and community activists said they suspect the bullying may have driven him to suicide.
"Whether suicide or homicide, those responsible for mistreating Danny are responsible for his death," said Elizabeth OuYang, a community activist who is representing his parents, Chinese immigrants who live near New York's Chinatown neighborhood.
Attorneys for the defendants could not immediately be located. A sister of Staff Sgt. Andrew Van Bockel, Bretta Van Bockel, had no comment. Relatives of the others could not be reached.
Activists said Chen's case has highlighted the military's poor treatment of Asian Americans, who remain a tiny percentage of new recruits even as the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics, women and other groups has grown.
Pentagon officials would not comment Wednesday on the specifics of the case. But a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said hazing is not tolerated.
"That's what this uniform requires. And when we don't, there's a justice system in place to deal with it," Kirby said. "That's what we're seeing here in the case of Private Chen."