In a heartbreaking twist to one of the more horrifying crimes in recent memory, the 88-year-old wounded World War II veteran who was beaten to death by teenagers in a Spokane, Wash., parking lot, was doing his best to fight back against his attackers, police revealed Monday.

In fact, Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said Delbert Belton’s feisty spirit might have been what led to his murder.

“Our information is that the individual fought back and that may have made this, you know, a worse situation," Straub said in a press conference. "I'm not being critical of Mr. Belton, we certainly encourage individuals to fight back, and he should have."

Belton (pictured) suffered a bullet wound to the leg in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the final and bloodiest battle against the Japanese in WWII. He was attacked in his car by two teenagers who tried to rob him last Wednesday night as he sat in the parking lot of an ice rink waiting for the arrival of a friend.

Belton’s daughter-in-law told CBS News that he was beaten with “heavy flashlights.”

Demetrius Glenn and Kenan Adams-Kinard, both 16, have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in connection with the crime. They are each being held on $2 million bail and will be tried as adults, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Three friends of Adams-Kinard are also under arrest and are accused of helping the accused killer evade police.

Straub said according to his information, the motive for the killing was straightforward robbery, not race. Nor was the crime gang-related, Straub said. Instead, Belton appeared to be simply a target of opportunity for the two teens, “one of whom was at one point actively involved in basketball.”

Belton’s’s niece, Pam Hansen, said she believes that the war hero was selected as a victim both because of his age and his diminutive size. Belton stood barely more than 5 feet tall, earning his nickname, “Shorty.”

SOURCES: Los Angeles Times, CBS News (2)