"I'm sorry, guys," he told them. "But there's no way I'm giving up my weapons."

After talking for about an hour and a half, Dwyer agreed to let Matina lock the weapons up. The group went for a walk in a nearby park, and Dwyer seemed happier than he'd been in months.

Worsening parania

But Dwyer's paranoia soon returned ? and worsened.

On Oct. 6, 2005, when superiors went to the couple's off-base apartment to persuade Dwyer to return to the hospital, Dwyer barricaded himself in. Imagining Iraqis swarming up the sides and across the roof, he fired his pistol through the door, windows and ceiling.

After a three-hour standoff, Dwyer's eldest brother, Brian, also a police officer, managed to talk him down over the phone. Dwyer was admitted for psychiatric treatment.

In a telephone interview later that month from what he called the "nut hut" at Beaumont, Dwyer told Newsday that he'd lied on a post-deployment questionnaire that asked whether he'd been disturbed by what he'd seen and done in Iraq. The reason: A PTSD diagnosis could interfere with his plans to seek a police job. Besides, he'd been conditioned to see it as a sign of weakness.

"I'm a soldier," he said. "I suck it up. That's our job."

Dwyer told the newspaper that he'd blown off counseling before but was committed to embracing his treatment this time. He said he hoped to become an envoy to others who avoided treatment for fear of damaging their careers.

"There's a lot of soldiers suffering in silence," he said.

In January 2006, Joseph and Matina Dwyer moved back to North Carolina, away from the place that reminded him so much of the battlefield. But his shadow enemy followed him here.

Dwyer was discharged from the Army in March 2006 and living off disability. That May, Matina Dwyer gave birth to a daughter, Meagan Kaleigh.

He seemed to be getting by, but setbacks would occur without warning.

On the Fourth of July, he and family were fishing off the back deck when the fireworks display began. Dwyer bolted inside and hid under a bed.

In June 2007, police responded to a call that Dwyer was "having some mental problems related to PTSD." A captain talked him into going to the emergency room.

Later that month, Matina Dwyer moved in with her parents and obtained a protective order. In the complaint, she said Dwyer had purchased an AR-15 assault rifle and become angry when she refused to return it.

"He said that he was coming to my residence to get his gun back," she wrote in the June 25, 2007, complaint. "He was coming packed with guns and someone was going to die tonight." She declined to be interviewed for this story.

In July 2007, Dwyer checked into an inpatient program at New York's Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He stayed for six months.

He came home in March with more than a dozen prescriptions. He was so medicated that his feet flopped when he walked, as if he were wearing oversized clown shoes.

The VA's solution was a "pharmaceutical lobotomy," his father thought.

But within five days of his discharge, Dwyer's symptoms had returned with such ferocity that the family decided it was time to get Matina and 2-year-old Meagan out. While Dwyer was off buying inhalants, his parents helped spirit them away.

On April 10, weary and fearful, Matina Dwyer filed for custody and division of property.

Loosening grip on reality Without his wife and daughter to anchor him, Dwyer's grip on reality loosened further. He reverted to Iraq time, sleeping during the day and "patrolling" all night. Unable to possess a handgun, he placed knives around the house for protection.

In those last months, Dwyer opened up a little to his parents.

What bothered him most, he said, was the sheer volume of the gunfire. He talked about the grisly wounds he'd treated and dwelled on the people he was unable to save. His nasal membranes seemed indelibly stained with the scents of the battlefield ? the sickeningly sweet odor of rotting flesh and the metallic smell of blood.