NEW YORK — Chinese-Americans decrying the suicide of a teenage Army private they say was hazed because of his ethnicity left Monday for the court martial of the first of eight U.S. soldiers accused of pushing him to the edge.

Dozens of supporters of Danny Chen's family held a news conference on Monday before some boarded a van for the 10-hour trip to North Carolina, where the trial starts at Fort Bragg on Tuesday.

The supporters first gathered in Columbus Park, in the middle of Manhattan's Chinatown, surrounded by longtime neighborhood residents. The group included community members, elected officials, a Vietnam War veteran and filmmakers making a documentary on the case. A sign held by one supporter read: "We are all Danny Chen."

Chen's parents and other relatives left for North Carolina on Sunday.

Wellington Chen, executive director of the development group Chinatown Partnership and no relation to the soldier's family, said the verdict "will have profound implications, not only for our ethnic group but for all Americans who expect their government to give them both freedom and protection."

Danny Chen's suicide over what military officials said was extreme physical and emotional abuse, in addition to nearly one suicide a day among America's troops, "means that there is something wrong with the system," Wellington Chen said.

Military officials have said the 19-year-old soldier shot himself on Oct. 3 in a guardhouse in Afghanistan after weeks of abuse at the hands of fellow soldiers. For months, beginning during training, soldiers in his platoon peppered him with racial insults such as "Jackie Chen" and "Dragon Lady," his family said.

On the day he died, Chen was forced to crawl across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers pelted him with rocks, according to his family, with whom he shared details of his ordeal.

According to court documents, Chen was kicked, was dragged from his tent and had sandbags tied to his arms. He wrote about the abuse in his journal.

Vassar College student Julia Chung said that when she first heard about his suicide, "I was really, really angry." But then she decided to go into action, joining others who signed petitions, staged protest marches and contacted military officials to push for justice on America soil.

Eight soldiers are facing charges ranging from dereliction of duty to involuntary manslaughter in connection to Chen's death. They're from Maryland; Port Arthur, Texas; Aberdeen, S.D.; Youngstown, Ohio; Brooklyn, Iowa; Hendersonville, Tenn.; Greenville, Pa.; and Fowler, Ind.

Sgt. Adam Holcomb, of Youngstown, is the first to go on trial. He faces a negligent homicide charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years, and a host of other charges. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to about 18 years in prison.

Four other men are charged with negligent homicide, and the judge's decision in Holcomb's trial could be an indicator for them. Holcomb's military defense attorneys were on route from Afghanistan and could not be reached for comment.

Chen was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, but was under the command of a Fort Bragg general in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. James Huggins requested the trial be transferred to Fort Bragg, which military officials said worked out better logistically. Chen's family also lobbied for the trials to be held stateside.

Chen was born and raised in Manhattan's Chinatown, where teachers from his Head Start program showed up for Monday's gathering. He enlisted after high school and had been in Afghanistan for two months when he shot himself.

His family recently celebrated his life on what would have been his 20th birthday.

Army green T-shirts worn by many at the news conference bore the words: "Pvt. D. Chen, All-American Soldier for Life, 1992-2011."

His uncle Zhan Qiu Chen, who was on the van that left Monday, said he and members of the support group "strongly urge the Army to change the culture and the Army's image so we as parents feel comfortable sending our children to serve in the Army to protect our country."

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Associated Press writer Allen Reed in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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  • Danny Chen

  • Pvt. Danny Chen Memorial

    FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 file photo, Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Gates straightens the combat boots on the display before the memorial service for Pvt. Danny Chen of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment at the Southern Lights Chapel on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. An American soldier charged with abuse that led to the suicide of a 19-year-old fellow soldier in Afghanistan is facing a preliminary hearing Sunday on a base in the country, the military said. Spc. Ryan J. Offutt is charged with offenses including maltreatment, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, the military statement said. Offutt is one of eight infantrymen charged in connection with the suicide.(AP Photo / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman, File) MAGS OUT

  • Pvt. Danny Chen Memorial

    FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011 file photo, Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Gates straightens the combat boots on the display before the memorial service for Pvt. Danny Chen of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment at the Southern Lights Chapel on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. An American soldier charged with abuse that led to the suicide of a 19-year-old fellow soldier in Afghanistan is facing a preliminary hearing Sunday on a base in the country, the military said. Spc. Ryan J. Offutt is charged with offenses including maltreatment, involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, the military statement said. Offutt is one of eight infantrymen charged in connection with the suicide.(AP Photo / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman, File) MAGS OUT

  • Yan Tao Chen, third from left, waits for his wife Su Zhen Chen, center, as she is assisted following a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 in New York. The Chen's provided an update on a Pentagon investigation into the death of their some Danny Chen, an Army private who committed suicide after allegedly being mistreated by his comrades in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, weeps as she speaks about the death of Pvt. Danny Chen during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 in New York. An update was provided on a Pentagon investigation into the death of Chen, an Army private who committed suicide after allegedly being mistreated by his comrades in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • Yan Tao Chen, the father of Pvt. Danny Chen, listens during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 in New York. An update was provided on a Pentagon investigation into the death of Danny Chen, an Army private who committed suicide after allegedly being mistreated by his comrades in Afghanistan. In background is a portrait of the founder of Asia's first republic in China, Sun Yat-sen. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • Su Zhen Chen

    Su Zhen Chen, mother of Pvt. Danny Chen, weeps while speaking during a news conference in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. Chen was found on Oct. 3 in a guard tower in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, with what the Army has described as "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound." Eight American soldiers have been charged in Chen's death, the Army said Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • Elizabeth OuYang, Yan Tao Chen, Su Zhen Chen

    Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, center, speaks at a news conference while the parents of Pvt. Danny Chen, Yan Tao Chen, left, and Su Zhen Chen listen in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. Eight U.S. soldiers have been charged over the October death of Chen who apparently shot himself in Afghanistan, the Army said Wednesday, and supporters said the 19-year-old had been taunted with racial insults. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • FILE - In a Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 file photo, Pvt. Danny Chen's casket is carried into a hearse by soldiers during his funeral procession in New York. Chen was killed on Oct. 3 in a noncombat-related death in Kandahar province in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army says eight American soldiers have been charged in connection with the Oct. 3 death of Chen. In a statement, the military said the eight soldiers from Chen's company faced charges ranging from dereliction of duty, assault, negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Chen was found in a guard tower in Kandahar province with what the Army described at the time as "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound." He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. (AP Photo/Jin Lee, File)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2011 file photo, soldiers carry the casket of Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, during his funeral procession in New York's Chinatown neighborhood. Chen was found on Oct. 3 in a guard tower in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, with what the Army has described as "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound." Eight American soldiers have been charged in Chen's death, the Army said Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Jin Lee, File)

  • FILE - In a Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 file photo, a portrait of Pvt. Danny Chen is displayed on a vehicle during his funeral procession in New York. Chen was killed on Oct. 3 in a noncombat-related death in Kandahar province in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army says eight American soldiers have been charged in connection with the Oct. 3 death of Chen. In a statement, the military said the eight soldiers from Chen's company faced charges ranging from dereliction of duty, assault, negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Chen was found in a guard tower in Kandahar province with what the Army described at the time as "an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound." He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. (AP Photo/Jin Lee, File)

  • Pvt. Danny Chen's relatives mourn during his funeral procession on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 in New York. Chen was killed on Oct. 3 in a noncombat-related death in Kandahar province in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • Private Danny Chen's casket is carried by soldiers during his funeral procession on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 in New York. Chen was killed on Oct. 3 in a noncombat-related death in Kandahar province in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)

  • A portrait of Private Danny Chen is displayed on a funeral procession vehicle during the procession on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 in New York. Chen was killed on Oct. 3 in a noncombat-related death in Kandahar province in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)