KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- It was early in the morning, perhaps 2 a.m., when gunfire awoke 14-year-old Rafiullah.
He looked outside the house hed been sleeping in with his grandmother, an aunt, two cousins and his sister, and he saw a man with a weapon walk to a shed that housed the family cow and open fire, shooting the animal dead.
I told the women inside our room: Lets run! Lets get out of here, recalled Rafiullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name.
In the next compound, a short distance from the house where Rafiullah had been sleeping, Haji Mohammad Naim awoke to the sound of dogs barking wildly in the street.
Then there was shooting, and the dogs stopped barking, said Naim, whos in his 50s.Shortly afterward, there was pandemonium at Naims front door as Rafiullah and a handful of terrified women and children poured into his yard, seeking shelter. Minutes later, another woman and a young girl emerged from the darkness.
She was screaming and crying, Naim said of the woman. She said, My husband has been martyred, meaning that hed been killed.
Suddenly a silhouette appeared, moving rapidly behind a bright light. Naim thought that U.S. forces were raiding his village, and he expected a squad of soldiers to arrive. Instead, he saw just one man.
He got closer, and then he started shooting at me, Naim said.
The story that Rafiullah and Naim recently told a McClatchy reporter is the first public account by survivors in their village of the events of March 11, when a man whom U.S. officials have identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly shot and killed 17 people in two Afghan villages.
American officials, who say Bales returned to his base nearby after the shootings and surrendered without a fight, quickly spirited him out of Afghanistan to the United States, where hes awaiting trial on murder and other charges at the Armys maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
U.S. officials have offered no motive for the shootings and have divulged scant details of what investigators think took place in the villages of Alkozai, where Rafiullah and Naim live, and Najiban, which also lies near Bales base at Belambai in the Panjway district of Kandahar province.
The accounts by Rafiullah and Naim, both of whom were wounded in the rampage, offer new details of Bales alleged actions. A third survivor, Naims 11-year-old son, Sadiqullah, also was interviewed. But he said hed remained hidden behind a curtain throughout the violence, and it was uncertain what hed seen.
How valuable Naims and Rafiullahs testimony would be in a U.S. military court is unclear. Both said they didnt see the shooters face clearly enough to identify him, and both are uncertain about the exact time, noting that no one in the houses had a watch. Officials havent divulged which village they think was attacked first.
But the survivors accounts lend an urgency thats been lacking in the official version of events, and they convey the brutality and the seeming randomness of what took place in those early morning hours. Before the shooting ended in Alkozai, Rafiullahs grandmother was dead, his sister was critically wounded, three other people had been killed and five others were wounded in three adjacent houses. Most of the victims were related by blood or marriage.