13 dead in Fort Hood rampage, largest mass shooting on an Army post

As investigations into the the Nov. 5 massacre at the Fort Hood, Tex. army base ensue, the military community deals with the realities of violence at home and abroad.
By Greg Jaffe, William Branigin and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009; 6:32 PM

FORT HOOD, Tex. -- Investigators from the Army and the FBI searched for a motive behind Thursday's shooting rampage at this vast Army post and tried to determine whether anyone helped the suspected gunman, who remained on a ventilator Friday at a hospital where he was being treated for gunshot wounds.

As they awaited an opportunity to interview Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 30 others before being shot by a civilian police officer, authorities also faced questions about the strains that have beset the U.S. military amid protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers who were shot at a Fort Hood processing center were preparing for deployments to the two combat zones, as was Hasan, officials said.

"This was a kick in the gut, not only for the Fort Hood community but also for our entire Army," Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said after the post and all other U.S. military installations around the world observed a minute of silence for the victims of the shooting.

Army Secretary John M. McHugh, who visited Fort Hood with Casey on Friday, said investigators would also look into the effects of stress, including burgeoning rates of domestic violence and suicide in the military, and would try to piece together a picture of "what drives people to do desperate things."

Referring to Hasan, McHugh said, "We have to understand what caused that suspect to act in the way in which he did" so that such attacks can be prevented in the future.

But asked whether the Army, stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is "too small" to handle its responsibilities, Casey said, "I don't think so. I think it's way too early to make a judgment that's that pronounced."

Adding to the stress on the military have been the multiple combat tours that many service members have been assigned since the United States intervened in Afghanistan in late 2001 and invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Hasan, 39, was awaiting a deployment to Afghanistan, Army officials said, even though he was deeply troubled by the U.S. military effort there, according to people who knew him. That turmoil was not apparent to others who worked with him, however. The Arlington-born officer, who was raised in Virginia and trained at military hospitals in Bethesda and the District, recently underwent a peer review in which his fellow doctors found no fault with the care he was providing.

"He was a dedicated, hard-working provider who did really care for his patients" said Col. Kimberly Kesling, the deputy commander for clinical services at Fort Hood. "Sometimes people have demons we don't know about and make bad choices. . . . People who take care of people with problems can develop problems of their own."

Col. John Rossi, a deputy commander at Fort Hood, declined at a news conference to speculate on possible motives for the attack inside the post's crowded Soldier Readiness Processing Center, believed to be the largest mass shooting ever to occur on a U.S. military installation.

Military officials said they believe Hasan, a mental health professional who was trained to treat soldiers suffering from trauma, opened fire with a pair of pistols -- one of them semiautomatic -- in the processing facility just after lunchtime.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company