An Iraq veteran who fatally shot three soldiers and himself at Fort Hood in Texas had been prescribed medications for depression, anxiety and sleeping and wasn’t prone to violence, said Army Secretary John McHugh.
The shooter’s records showed he suffered no wounds, no “direct involvement in combat” and no “injury that might lead us to further investigate a battle-related” traumatic brain injury, McHugh said today at a Senate hearing in Washington. A psychiatrist examined the suspect last month and found no indication that he showed “any sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others,” he said. “No suicidal ideation.”
Sixteen people were hurt in the rampage, which happened about 4 p.m. local time yesterday in a medical area at the U.S. Army base. Coming less than five years after a rogue officer killed 13 people there, the attack has drawn attention to the military’s handling of the psychologically wounded upon their return from war.
The soldier, a married Puerto Rico native being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, killed himself with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol. He was identified as Specialist Ivan Lopez by a U.S. official who asked for anonymity because the name hasn’t been released.
A motive has not yet emerged. Authorities are looking “very, very carefully” at whether the shooter had “extremist involvement,” McHugh said, without identifying him by name. He said background checks so far showed no such connection.
The shooter served four months in Iraq in 2011 and in February arrived at Fort Hood from another post. He joined the army in June 2008, at first as an infantry soldier, McHugh said. On re-enlisting, he transferred to duty as a truck driver.
He spent nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard, said General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, at the Senate hearing. He was deployed for one year to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula while with the Puerto Rico guard.
“He was an excellent soldier,” National Guard Adjutant General Juan Medina Lamela said on Telemundo.
Lopez grew up in Guayanilla, a town on the island’s south coast, the Spanish-language El Nuevo Dia newspaper reported. Neighbors recalled him as a music lover from a tight-knit family involved in church activities, it said.
Guayanilla Mayor Edgardo Arlequín, who directed the high-school band in which Lopez was a percussionist, told the newspaper he “was a really easygoing kid whose parents were very dedicated to him.”
A neighbor, Aidé Merlo Irizarry, described the suspect to the newspaper as “very loving toward his mother,” and said her death in October “hurt him deeply.”
Yesterday, authorities say, he exploded into violence.
The shooter walked into a base building, opened fire, entered another structure and shot again, Lieutenant General Mark Milley, the base’s commander, said at a news briefing last night. When a military police officer approached in a parking lot, the attacker put the gun to his own head, the general said.
No more fatalities were expected among the victims, who suffered wounds to the neck, chest, abdomen and extremities, said Matthew Davis, trauma medical director at Scott & White Healthcare, which runs the hospital in Temple treating them. Three patients remained in critical condition, while others may be released today, Davis told reporters today.
The shooting was the second at a major U.S. military base since September, when Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who believed he was under the control of extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.
Psychological troubles like those Lopez complained of are common among returning veterans. About 20 percent of them will have post-traumatic stress disorder and another 20 percent traumatic brain injury, according to Hannah Rudstam, a Cornell University researcher who has studied their reintegration. In 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military should improve its diagnoses.
A 2013 law authorized defense health professionals to ask troops whether they own or plan to acquire a gun if there’s reason to believe a soldier is at risk of committing suicide or harming others, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman. Officials didn’t know whether the shooter was asked this question, Warren said in a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon today.
The weapon used in the killings wasn’t registered with Fort Hood authorities as required, said Milley.
At Guns Galore, a store near the base where the officer convicted of the 2009 attack purchased his weapon, a manager was questioned last night by agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said salesman Greg Ebert.
The shop keeps records of purchases in compliance with state and federal law, and has all buyers fill out background-check paperwork, Ebert said in an interview. He didn’t know whether agents took records with them.
Fort Hood, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Austin, houses about 41,000 troops and is home to the Army’s 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry divisions.
In 2009, the base was the scene of a shooting in which an Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Hasan, killed 13 people and wounded more than 30. Hasan, who had become radicalized by an al-Qaeda terrorist based in Yemen, attacked while yelling “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for God is Great.
The gunman, who later said he took aim at the soldiers because he viewed them as a threat to Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, was sentenced to death by a military court.
“No community should have to go through this horrific violence once, let alone twice,” U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, said in a statement.
To contact the reporters on this story: Darrell Preston in Killeen, Texas at email@example.com; Harry R. Weber in Killeen, Texas at firstname.lastname@example.org; Esme E. Deprez in New York at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at firstname.lastname@example.org Alan Goldstein