Gunman at Fort Hood kills 3 and himself, but motives still unclear
Killeen, Texas: A soldier who was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder opened fire at Fort Hood on Wednesday, killing three people and wounding 16 before killing himself, the authorities said. The shooting set off a huge police response and shut down the sprawling Army base, the same facility where a deadly rampage by an officer resulted in 13 deaths in 2009.
Fort Hood’s commanding general said the gunman, an Army specialist who had served in Iraq and was being treated for behavioral and mental health issues, had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The commander, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, told reporters that the soldier’s motive remained unclear, but that the shooting did not appear to be related to terrorism.
A Pentagon official said the suspected gunman was Army Spc. Ivan Lopez. Milley, while not identifying Lopez by name, said the gunman had served four months in Iraq in 2011 and was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, but had not yet been diagnosed with the condition. There were indications that he had self-reported a traumatic brain injury when he returned from Iraq, Milley said.
Reports of the shooting sent dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement officials rushing to the base in Killeen as they had in November 2009. In Chicago, President Barack Obama said that White House and Pentagon officials were following the events closely. “We are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” the president said. “We’re heartbroken something like this might have happened again.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said that many questions remained but that officials’ focus was on supporting the victims and their families. “This is a community that has faced and overcome crises with resilience and strength,” he said in a statement.
The episode appeared to have unfolded around 4:30 p.m. at a medical support building. Witnesses described chaos as gunshots rang out. “It was like if you went into a room and turned on the lights – all the bugs just scattered,” a man who identified himself as Tyler said in an interview with KCEN, an NBC affiliate.
The base was put on lockdown, as Army officials took to Twitter and Facebook to alert soldiers there to shelter in place and stay away from windows. The injured were transported to Fort Hood’s medical center and other area hospitals.
The authorities said Lopez appeared to have walked into one building, then gone inside a vehicle and fired shots from the vehicle with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that had recently been bought in the Killeen area. He got out of the vehicle, walked into another building and opened fire again, and then engaged with a female military police officer before shooting himself.
He put his hands up, Milley said, then reached under his jacket. The female officer pulled out her weapon, and then Lopez put his weapon to his head and fired. Milley described the officer’s actions as “clearly heroic,” adding: “She did her job. She did exactly what we would expect of U.S. Army military police.”
Lopez had arrived at Fort Hood in February from another installation, officials said.
Scott and White Memorial Hospital in nearby Temple, Texas, said it had received eight patients and expected one more. Three victims were in critical condition, and five others were expected to be upgraded from serious to fair condition overnight. The injuries included gunshot wounds to the abdomen, chest and neck.
Tayra Dehart, 33, stood outside the visitor center at Fort Hood’s main gate Wednesday evening, anxiously awaiting word from her husband of 10 months, a 30-year-old sergeant who was caught in the lockdown.
“I jumped out my skin,” Dehart said, telling of her reaction when she heard the news of the shootings from the couple’s home nearby. Declining to give her husband’s name for security reasons, Dehart said she had immediately sped to the base and had been trying unsuccessfully to reach her husband on his cellphone.
“I’m like a waiting bird,” she said in describing her vigil just inside the base gate.
After a tense wait of more than three hours, she finally heard from him and said he was safe.
Traffic at the main gate of the base was at a standstill as the authorities scanned exiting vehicles and blocked cars from entering. A Central Texas College campus four miles away was also placed on lockdown. Shortly before 9 p.m., the lockdown at the base was lifted. All-clear sirens sounded and traffic resumed in and out of the main gate.
The heightened alert brought back memories of the previous shooting at Fort Hood.
On Nov. 5, 2009, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire inside the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, shooting unarmed soldiers and commissioned officers as they tried to hide under desks and tables. Hasan, a military psychiatrist and a Muslim, shot and killed 12 unarmed soldiers and one civilian and wounded or shot at 30 other soldiers and two police officers. Prosecutors said one of his motivations was to kill as many soldiers as he could to wage jihad on American military personnel. A Senate report called it the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 attacks.
After a military trial that was held at the base last year under tight security, a jury of 13 senior Army officers found Hasan guilty and sentenced him to death. He was transferred after the trial to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, home of the military’s death row and death chamber.
In addition to the shooting in 2009 and the one Wednesday, Fort Hood was the site of a planned attack that was foiled by the authorities.
Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, 22, was arrested in July 2011 and charged with trying to detonate an explosive device at a restaurant frequented by Fort Hood soldiers. Abdo was found at a hotel room near the base with a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol, bomb-making materials and an article describing how to make a bomb in a kitchen. He had been involved in disputes with the military over his Muslim beliefs and his coming deployment to Afghanistan. He was convicted by a federal jury of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, among other charges.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the three episodes had given him concern that the base was “becoming a target for potential jihadists.”
In Washington, intelligence officials said they were investigating potential terrorist connections to the shooting, but so far had no evidence to suggest any.