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Injured Iraq Vet Becomes Symbol For Occupy Oakland

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The bloodied face of a 24-year-old Iraq veteran has become a symbol for protesters in Oakland, Calif., drawing attention to the level of force used by police and sparking criticism of the mayor's handling of the Occupy movement.

Scott Olsen came to Occupy Oakland after work Tuesday night to support the protesters. Witnesses say that when clashes broke out, he was struck in the head by a projectile fired by police — either a rubber bullet or a tear gas canister. He was hospitalized with a fractured skull.

"When he was getting carried away, his hat fell off," said 20-year-old Claire Chadwick, who came to Highland Hospital in Oakland on Thursday to check on Olsen. "I ran back and grabbed it. His military hat, I thought he would want it back."

Chadwick was one of the protesters who carried Olsen away from the scene. She says she screamed for medical help, but it never came.

"I held his face in my hands while he was bleeding out of the mouth, unconscious, while his eyes were rolling in the back of his head," she said.

Olsen's friends say protesters rushed him to the hospital. Images of his injuries spread quickly on social media sites, which is how fellow veterans and friends like Matt Howard heard what happened. Like Olsen, Howard is a member of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War.

"I woke up in the morning and checked my Facebook page, and realized that a picture that had a Marine veteran was in fact Scott," he said. "You know, I was shocked, the fact that one of our own guys, a veteran or an IVAW member, that something like that happened to him was a little bit unbelievable."

Chief surgeon Dr. Alden Harken reported Thursday night that Olsen was breathing on his own and capable of moving his body.

"He clearly understands what we are saying — huge neurological improvements over what he was when he got here," he said. "He's still having trouble articulating words. I anticipate that that will improve."

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also came to visit Olsen. Highland's spokesperson, Vintage Foster, said the mayor said she was sorry for what happened, and that the city was investigating. Earlier in the week, Oakland's Police Chief Howard Jordan told reporters Olsen's injury is being treated as a lethal force incident.

As of Thursday night, Occupy Oakland protesters re-occupied the plaza in front of City Hall. Many veterans gathered with protesters to pay tribute to Olsen. On Friday, the hospital reported that Olsen is in fair condition and expected to make a full recovery.

Denise Tejada is a reporter for Turnstylenews.com, a project of Youth Radio.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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