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Four killed in shootings at Fort Hood

FORT HOOD, Texas

An Iraq war veteran who was grappling with mental health issues opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, in an attack that left four people dead and 16 wounded Wednesday afternoon, according to preliminary law enforcement and military reports. The gunfire sent tremors of fear across a sprawling Army base still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Many basic details about the shooting remained unclear in the chaotic hours after the first calls for help around 4 p.m., but senior U.S. law enforcement officials said the incident did not appear to be linked to any foreign terrorist organizations. The shooter was among those who died, the officials said.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, identified the shooter as Army Spec. Ivan Lopez, 34. Other officials said Lopez was a military truck driver, who was dressed in his standard-issue green camouflage uniform. Lopez opened fire in two locations on the vast central Texas post, inside a building housing the 1st Medical Brigade and in a facility belonging to the 49th Transportation Battalion, military officials said.

Police spent Wednesday night searching his apartment in Killeen, the city that abuts the base. Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said the soldier, whom he did not identify by name, served four months in Iraq in 2011.

Milley said the shooter "had behavioral health and mental health issues." He said the soldier, who self-reported a traumatic brain injury and was taking anti-depressants, had been under examination to determine whether he had post-traumatic stress disorder. "We are digging deep into his background," Milley said.

Milley said the soldier opened fire with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol that was purchased recently but was not authorized to be brought on the base. He was eventually confronted by a female military police officer. He put his hands up but then pulled a gun from under his jacket. "She engaged," Milley said, and then the soldier put the gun to his head and shot himself.

The shooting was the third major gun attack at a U.S. military installation in five years. A government contractor went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in September, leaving 12 people dead. In 2009, Army Maj. 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.

President Bararck Obama said he was "heartbroken that something like this might have happened again." Speaking during a fundraising trip to Chicago, he pledged "to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the shootings "a terrible tragedy.''

"When we have these kinds of tragedies on our bases, something's not working," he said Wednesday evening 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."

Dozens of ambulances and law enforcement vehicles converged on the scene after the shooting. Several of the wounded were transported to Darnall Army Community Hospital on the base.

Eight victims, four in critical condition, were taken to Scott & White Hospital, a major trauma center in nearby Temple. Scott & White treated many of Hasan's victims in 2009.

The base 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 post, including children who were in school. 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 U.S. 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.

Among those on the base Wednesday was Matt Lausch, the chief of the Manassas, Va., 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 base.

Meanwhile, relatives of soldiers waited for news.

Tayra DeHart, 33, said she had last heard from her husband, a soldier at the post, that he was safe, but that was hours earlier.

"The last two hours have been the most nerve-racking I've ever felt. I know God is here protecting me and all the soldiers, but I have my phone in my hand just hoping it will ring and it will be my husband," DeHart said.

Brooke Conover, whose husband was on base at the time of the shooting, said she found out about it while checking Facebook. She said she called her husband, Staff Sgt. Sean Conover, immediately to make sure he was okay, but he could not even tell her exactly what was going on.

"I'm still hearing conflicting stories about what happened and where the shooting was exactly," Conover said in a telephone interview. "I just want him to come home."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

The 2009 attack

Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 wounded in an attack at the base in November 2009. An Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan was convicted and sentenced to death last year. He is now on death row at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Hasan's attack happened inside a crowded building where soldiers were waiting to get vaccines and routine paperwork after recently returning from deployments or while preparing to go to Afghanistan and Iraq.The rampage ended when Hasan was shot in the back.

About Fort Hood

Fort Hood is the largest active-duty armored post in the U.S. armed services. It is home to two full divisions, 1st Cavalry Division and 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and it supports 12 additional units. About 41,000 soldiers work there.

Four killed in shootings at Fort Hood 04/02/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:47am]

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