The soldier who fatally shot three people at Fort Hood, Texas, before killing himself had been undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety but had seen a psychiatrist last month and showed no “sign of any likely violence either to himself or others,” Army Secretary John McHugh said during a Senate hearing on Thursday.
The gunman who opened fire on Wednesday “had a clean record” before the shooting, Secretary McHugh said.
McHugh told a Senate panel that the investigation was continuing and did not comment on a possible motive, but he echoed other Army leaders in saying that there was no evidence the shooter was “involved with extremists of any kind.”
'No sign of likely violence' ... Secretary of the Army John McHugh addresses yesterday's shooting at Fort Hood during an appearance at Capitol Hill. Photo: Getty Images
McHugh did not identify the shooter, but other military officials and law enforcement officials have named him as Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, a military truck driver. He was dressed in his standard-issue green camouflage uniform when he opened fire in two locations on the vast Army post in central Texas on Wednesday afternoon.
General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, described the shooter as “an experienced soldier” who had served for nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before enlisting in the active-duty Army in 2008. Odierno and McHugh testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
While with the National Guard, the shooter served a one-year deployment to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. In 2011, after he joined the Army full-time, he served four months in Iraq and was one of the last US troops to come home at the end of the war.
In shock ... Staff Sergeant John Robertson, right, waits in a parking lot outside of the Fort Hood military base for updates about the shooting that occurred inside on Wednesday. Photo: AP
McHugh said there was no record that the shooter had been wounded or injured in Iraq. Lieutenant General Mark Milley, the commanding general of Fort Hood, told reporters on Wednesday night that the shooter had “self-reported” a traumatic brain injury from his Iraq deployment and that he was undergoing evaluation to determine if he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The shooting was the third major gun attack at a US military installation in five years, leaving the nation grappling with the prospect of yet more flag-draped funerals for troops killed on the home front.
A government contractor went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in September, leaving 12 people dead. In 2009, Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on a group of soldiers at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, killing 13 people and wounding more than 30.
Security guards check vehicles as they enter Fort Hood's main gate on Thursday. Photo: AP
Law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pistol used in Wednesday’s shootings was purchased legally last month at the same store, Guns Galore, where Hasan bought the weapon he used in the 2009 rampage.
“The past 13 years have been fraught with much loss, with much pain, with much suffering,” McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring broadly to the scars from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the 2009 Fort Hood massacre. “We’ll come out of this tempest poorer for the losses but stronger for our resolve.”
Army officials said investigators were questioning Lopez’s wife and searching their apartment in Killeen, the city that abuts the Army post. They said the pair were both natives of Puerto Rico.
Chief of Staff of the Army General Raymond Odierno has said military police are adequate security at Fort Hood, where personnel are banned from carrying firearms without permission. Photo: AFP
Lopez had transferred to Fort Hood in February from another Army installation, officials said.
Milley, the Fort Hood commander, said the shooter “had behavioural health and mental health issues” and was taking antidepressants. “We are digging deep into his background,” Milley said.
Army officials said Lopez, a military truck driver, opened fire inside a building housing the 1st Medical Brigade and in a facility belonging to the 49th Transportation Battalion.
Milley said the soldier opened fire with his recently purchased .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, which was not authorised to be brought on the post. He was eventually confronted by a female military police officer. He put his hands up but then pulled out a gun from under his jacket. “She engaged,” Milley said, and then the soldier put the gun to his head and shot himself.
Lopez was considered a “low risk” soldier in Fort Bliss’s 1st Armored Division, 4th Brigade, where he had been stationed for two years as an infantryman until November 2013, according to a person familiar with his military service.
Because of privacy regulations, his commanders there did not know he was taking depression and anti-anxiety medications, but he did not appear to have behavioural problems that raised red flags. The military monitors people for stress levels, and Lopez was deemed to be “low risk” compared with those suffering major stress or exhibiting bad behaviour.
However, Lopez was going through some level of stress. His mother had passed away in the past year, and he had been seeing a chaplain on post for counselling on that and other undisclosed issues. He left Fort Bliss in November for several months of training to become a truck driver, then won an assignment with a truck-driving unit at Fort Hood, starting in February.
Doctors at Scott and White Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas, said on Thursday that they were treating nine patients — eight men and one woman, all current service members — and that three remain in critical condition.
Matthew Davis, trauma director at the hospital, told reporters that five others are in fair condition and the remainder in good condition. He said it was possible that several victims with minor injuries could be discharged on Thursday.
Davis said the patients in critical condition have injuries to the neck, abdomen and possibly the spine and that two of them require further surgery. The patients range in age from 21 to the mid-40s, he said.
President Obama directed officials to “utilise every resource available to fully investigate the shooting,” the White House said Wednesday night. The president spoke in a conference call with his national security team, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano.
Speaking during a fundraising trip to Chicago, Obama said he was “heartbroken that something like this might have happened again” and pledged “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
At Guns Galore, which advertises that it has 3000 guns in stock and 1700 on display, general manager Cathy Cheadle said she could not comment because of the investigation.
But a part-time sales clerk, a retired police sergeant who gave his name only as Ebert, said, “We are religiously in compliance with state and federal law — to the point where we have pissed some people off.” He added: “We have refused gun sales before. It’s based on the little voice inside your head that says it’s not a good idea. . . . We have done good things since we’ve been here. We do whatever needs to be done to keep the community safe.”
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday that Congress should revisit the issue of expanding the federal gun background check program in response to the latest shooting spree at Fort Hood.
“As I was told today, this young man bought his gun a day or two before he killed these people,” Reid told reporters. “Couldn’t we at least have background checks so that people who are ill mentally, or who are felons, shouldn’t be able to buy guns? Even NRA members, a majority of them, support that, so I hope we can bring it back up.”
When asked whether he would like to bring up a bill to expand the background check program, Reid said, “I would like to be able to bring it back up; I need some more votes.”
Although installations such as Fort Hood contain large storehouses of armaments, and many of their inhabitants have spent years at war, military posts are usually among the most idyllic communities in the country, a throwback to the 1950s, with manicured lawns, drivers who conscientiously abide by the speed limit and parents unafraid to allow their children to frolic out of sight
Encompassing 547 square kilometres, Fort Hood is larger than the five boroughs of New York combined. But most of the area is open terrain, used for tank and artillery practice. Many of the post’s facilities are concentrated on its southern perimeter, near its gates to the city of Killeen. The facilities include the headquarters for III Corps, which is comprised of two full divisions and support regiments. More than 40,000 service members work on the post, which has about 6000 family residences.
In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, Hagel ordered a series of security changes at military installations, including more rigorous screening of personnel and the creation of an analysis centre to examine “insider threats.”
“When we have these kinds of tragedies on our bases, something’s not working,” he said on Wednesday during a visit to Hawaii. “We will continue to address the issue. Anytime you lose your people to these kinds of tragedies, it’s an issue, it’s a problem.”
Dempsey said that many questions remained about the shooting but that a principal initial focus was to support the victims and their families. “This is a community that has faced and overcome crises with resilience and strength,” he said in a statement.
Soldiers based at Fort Hood were called upon, often repeatedly, to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. Those combat tours have exacted a profound physical and emotional toll on many troops. Others have rebounded quickly and are continuing their military careers or are transitioning into the civilian world.
Dozens of ambulances and law enforcement vehicles converged on the scene after the shooting. Several of the wounded were transported to area hospitals.
The post was placed on lockdown for much of the afternoon, with loudspeakers across the facility urging people to shelter in place. The order applied to thousands of families that live on the base. The order was lifted in the early evening, once law enforcement authorities had determined that a sole gunman was responsible for the shooting.
With the exception of military police officers, soldiers at Fort Hood and all other US military installations are not armed or permitted to carry privately owned firearms. The restrictions on personal weapons were expanded in the wake of the 2009 massacre and an epidemic of suicides at Fort Hood, which is the largest active-duty armored post in the country. Current policy requires soldiers to register their personal weapons with their commanders and to keep those weapons in a secured room.
Hasan was convicted of multiple counts of murder last year and sentenced to death. He is on death row at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kanas.
Hasan, who worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from 2003 to 2006, had been due to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks of the attack. At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence of his meticulous planning. The Army major and psychiatrist chose the most high-tech, high-capacity weapon available at a gun store in Killeen, Texas, and trained himself at a local firing range before giving away some of his belongings on the day of the shooting.
Shortly after 1 pm on November 5, 2009, Hasan walked into Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Centre with two guns, shouted “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great,” and opened fire. He unleashed more than 200 rounds.
Twelve of the people who were killed were soldiers waiting for medical tests; the other was a civilian who tried to tackle the psychiatrist. Hasan was left paralysed from the chest down after being shot by an Army police officer.
The shootings exposed a number of failings by the Defence Department, which a Pentagon report concluded was unprepared for internal threats. On one occasion, Hasan gave a presentation to senior Army doctors in which he discussed Islam and suicide bombers and warned that Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid “adverse events”.
Among those on the facility Wednesday was Matt Lausch, the chief of the Manassas, Virginia, volunteer fire department. He was working on his company’s contract to build a hospital on the grounds when the alert system warned the base to “seek shelter immediately.”
Lausch, who remained in a construction trailer, said a flood of emergency personnel could be seen and heard streaming across the post.
“There was a huge, huge response by police and first responders,” Lausch said. He and co-workers learned of the shooting from social media feeds once they locked themselves in the trailer.
The Washington Post