Families of Fort Hood victims describe soldiers’ courage in the face of death

A Fort Hood soldier killed during Wednesday’s shooting rampage died while protecting a roomful of fellow military personnel from the enraged gunman who killed three and injured 16 before shooting himself.

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel M. Ferguson, 39, who had just returned from Afghanistan, is the second of three people killed in the Fort Hood shooting to be described as acting with extraordinary valor in the final minutes of life, according to accounts provided by family members. The Defense Department confirmed the identities of those killed but has not yet described in detail how the violence unfolded.

The circumstances in the death of the third victim, Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, remained unclear Friday. A family friend described Lazaney-
Rodriguez as a career soldier “devoted to the U.S. and the U.S. military.”

Ferguson’s fiancee told a Tampa television station that Ferguson lost his life as he stood behind an unlocked door at Fort Hood, blocking attempts by the gunman, Spec. Ivan A. Lopez, to enter a room crowded with military personnel.

“He held that door shut because there’s no locks,” his fiancee, Kristen Haley, said in a telephone interview with a reporter from station WTSP.

A look at the parallels between shooting massacres at Fort Hood in Texas

“If he was not being the one against that door holding it, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else,” said Haley, who is also stationed at Fort Hood.

Ferguson, who served as a transportation supervisor, grew up in Mulberry, Fla., a town of about 3,800. He lettered in five sports in high school, including football, baseball and track.

“He was so proud to be a part of such a great service,” Haley said.

Lori Leverett, the assistant principal of Mulberry Senior High School, said she knew Ferguson when he was a student there in the early 1990s. “He was quiet, very respectful, a bright young man,” she said. “He was just a nice, well-rounded — just a wholesome, nice person.”

She said he was a member of the letterman’s club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When his class held its 20th reunion last year, he was abroad and could not attend, she said.

Ferguson served in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq and received numerous awards, including the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in combat.

Sgt. Timothy W. Owens, 37, of Effingham, Ill., also acted courageously before his death, a family member said. Owens sought to calm the gunman, but as he walked toward Lopez in a parking lot, he was struck by five bullets at close range. “He was a brave man,” said his mother, Mary Muntean, who described her son’s actions in an interview Thursday with The Washington Post. The family said he had been working as a counselor; the Army said he was assigned to a transportation battalion as a heavy-vehicle driver.

Lazaney-Rodriguez, a unit supply sergeant in a medical brigade, was a native of Puerto Rico and planned to retire from the Army in December. His family was notified of his death late Wednesday, said a family friend, Carlos Mendez, the mayor of Lazaney-Rodriguez’s home town, Aguadilla.

“He was a good person,” said Mendez, recalling a conversation with the soldier’s aunt, who wept as she told the mayor the news. The family is well known in Aguadilla, he said.

“His father and his two brothers were in the military. They are devoted to the U.S. and to the U.S. military,” Mendez said, noting that the city of 60,000 has a proud history of participation in the armed forces.

Like other family members, Lazaney-Rodriguez spent his entire career in the Army. He had served for 20 years, including deployment in Iraq and Kuwait, records show.

tom.hamburger@washpost.com

David Fahrenthold and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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