Luke Elliott Sommer, born in Kelowna, BC, and raised in nearby Peachland, goes by his middle name. The oldest of seven children, Elliott has been described by his mother, Christel Davidsen, herself a lieutenant in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves, as “a challenge.” Letters she and other family members would eventually submit to a federal judge describe him as compassionate and intelligent but unfocused. He once designed a videogame that attracted interest from a top game company. Then, without warning, he dropped the whole enterprise. He had a tendency to overachieve, but because he told fantastical tales about his exploits his mother found it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
He also had a talent for getting others to do his bidding. Once when the family was vacationing at a Fairmont Hotel, 16-year-old Elliott talked about how he was training to be a Navy Seal, and to qualify he needed to swim two and a half lengths of the pool underwater with only one breath. He tried and was only able to complete two lengths. He told his 11-year-old sister Karis that if she wanted to outswim him, she’d have to swim two and a half. “Swim until you can’t swim anymore,” he instructed. She swam the two and a half lengths and passed out, sinking to the bottom of the pool like a duffle bag of kittens. She was on the verge of drowning before her challenger noticed. Elliott pulled his sister up to the surface and revived her.
They carried enough weaponry to create “a bloodbath in the streets of Tacoma.”
When a friend’s car ran over one of the family’s puppies—the runt, Elliott’s favorite—the teenager took command. The dog lay on the ground, still alive, whimpering in an expanding pool of blood. Elliott rushed over, and, according to a letter Karis wrote years later, “quickly put it out of its misery and then sat down and cried like a baby. He buried it in our backyard.”
On June 26, 2003, his 17th birthday, Sommer, who holds dual citizenship because his father was born in the U.S., made the four-hour trip from Peachland to Bellingham, Washington, and enlisted in the U.S. Army. But he didn’t want to be just any soldier. He wanted to be a Ranger. An elite group of Special Forces soldiers trained to jump out of planes, kill enemies before they know what hits them, and fend off starvation in the harshest environments on earth, Rangers carry out some of the most dangerous missions in the military, including, most famously, the Battle of Mogadishu, the 1993 firefight against Somali warlords depicted in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, one of Sommer’s favorite books.
After basic training, Airborne School, and Ranger Indoctrination Program, Sommer landed in Iraq in June 2004. Six days into his tour, he says, his disenchantment with the military began. “We get this notification that [Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi is on this place,” he would recall two and half years later, sitting in a dark basement, under house arrest.
“I didn’t know the SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] and I’d probably end up getting shot in the face. So I stayed behind…and was like vacuuming and shit—and these guys are out chasing Zarqawi. So Sergeant First Class Martin’s like, ‘Hey Sommer, roll down to building nine and do detainee guard with two of the guys from the [battle-field interrogation] team.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, roger.’ So I rip down there and ended up watching over five, six women…while two guys were interrogating this dude. So the next thing you know they come dragging this motherfucker out of the building, they pop him in the face like hard as fuck; dude’s bleeding everywhere. And then they started speaking to this woman I was guarding in like rapid-fire Arabic.” As Sommer tells it, the soldiers then dragged the woman to the back of an 18-wheel truck trailer and raped her.
NEXT: Sommer learns how to most effectively overtake a building.