washingtonpost.com
'I could hear the bullets going past me'

By Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 7, 2009

The first frantic 911 calls had come just four minutes earlier. Kimberly Munley, a civilian police officer for the Army, rounded the corner of a squat, one-story building at 1:27 p.m. Thursday and came face to face with Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan.

Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, had already killed or wounded dozens of soldiers, having fired more than 100 rounds, according to Army officials. He was still shooting at unarmed troops who were dragging away their bleeding colleagues when he locked his eyes on Munley, raised his pistols, and charged her.

The petite officer dropped to the ground for protection and fired back. Bullets struck Munley, 35, in both thighs and one wrist. At least one of Munley's rounds hit Hasan in the chest, knocking him to the ground, witnesses said, although the details of what happened are still unclear.

"She moved to the threat and eliminated it," said Chuck Medley, director of emergency services at Fort Hood, Tex. As she fired off her rounds, a few other officers also closed in on Hasan, who lay bloody and unconscious.

The police officer's heroics ended a horrific rampage for Fort Hood soldiers, who had already experienced years of deployments, bloodshed and memorial services in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials said Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 38. Hasan's family members said he was upset about his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

"Candidly, this was a kick in the gut, not only for the Fort Hood community but the entire Army," said the Army chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who commanded U.S. forces during the darkest and bloodiest days in Iraq.

Around 1 p.m. Thursday, about 300 soldiers were lined up to get vaccinations, fill out paperwork and have their eyes tested at the Soldier Readiness Center, where troops bound for war zones undergo medical screening. Across a courtyard, other soldiers were lining up in cap and gown for a graduation ceremony. None of the soldiers was armed. At bases in the United States, weapons and ammunition are locked in arms rooms and are taken out only for training exercises.

Hasan, who allegedly carried at least two pistols and more than a half-dozen magazines of ammunition, appeared to have planned his attack carefully, Army officials said.

Some soldiers reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great!" -- before emptying several magazines of ammunition. Other Army officials said they could not confirm that Hasan had shouted the phrase.

The gunfire was methodical, continuous and well-aimed, said soldiers at the scene. Most of the wounded soldiers were struck two or three times, in the chest, stomach or neck.

Helping the wounded

Spec. Marquest Smith was working on paperwork for an allergy shot in one of the readiness center cubicles when he heard the familiar snap of handgun rounds, followed by yelling and moaning. Then someone shouted, "Gun!"

He pushed a woman helping him with his paperwork under a desk.

Outside the center, Pfc. Jeffrey Pearsall, who had driven Smith to the appointment, was waiting for his friend in his F-150 pickup truck.

As wounded soldiers started pouring out of the building, Pearsall drove closer to the entrance, jumped out of his truck and began to drag a few of the most badly wounded toward the pickup bed. Other unarmed soldiers in the area also began to sprint toward the gunfire.

Inside the center, Smith, thinking he was safe, emerged from his cubicle. He surveyed the large room. He saw 20 to 30 people, he remembered later. Soldiers were on the ground, chairs strewn about, tables upside down. "There was blood everywhere," Smith said.

Looking for survivors, Smith helped pull four wounded soldiers outside. There medics, still clad in their caps and gowns, had abandoned their graduation ceremony and begun treating the wounded.

Then Smith realized the gunman was still inside -- just 10 feet away. "He saw me," Smith said. "He started turning towards me and started shooting. I had my back turned towards him, and I ran to the door. I could hear the bullets going past me and over my head."

Smith made it out of the building unscathed, save a bullet that went through the heel of his right combat boot as he ran out the door. He and Pearsall dragged several badly wounded soldiers to the bed of Pearsall's truck and sped toward the hospital.

Munley, who had been taking her patrol car in for maintenance, was the first armed police officer to arrive at the readiness center. For the first few minutes, she was the only person other than Hasan who had a gun. "She was a single patrol officer," said Medley, her supervisor.

Medley said Munley and Hasan shot each other at nearly the same moment. Another officer at the scene said Hasan paused to reload his pistols just seconds after unloading his weapon into Munley.

"He's reloading! He's reloading!" screamed a soldier hiding behind a vehicle.

As Hasan fumbled with the magazines, another police officer, who had arrived on the scene just minutes after Munley, fired his weapon and felled Hasan, said the soldier, who was crouching in the parking lot.

'Like being back in Iraq'

Within moments of the fire, Munley and Hasan lay on the ground near each other bleeding badly. Hasan's pistols and several magazines of ammunition lay splayed near his body. A soldier rushed up to Munley and fashioned his belt into a tourniquet to stem the bleeding from her thigh before an ambulance ferried the officer to the base hospital.

Medics stripped off Hasan's camouflage top and began to treat his bullet wounds and pump plasma into his body to keep him alive. Hasan and three other badly injured soldiers were flown by helicopter to Scott & White Hospital in nearby Temple, Tex.

Cars carrying loads of wounded soldiers raced to Fort Hood's Darnall Army Medical Center, about a mile away. Some troops had ripped off their light green Army T-shirts and fashioned them into makeshift bandages and tourniquets to try to contain the bleeding from bullet wounds.

Sgt. Howard Appleby, who had gone to the hospital to meet with a psychiatrist for post-traumatic stress disorder, quickly found himself helping carry the wounded. "It was just like being back in Iraq," said Appleby, adding that he hasn't been able to sleep since the shooting.

Wounded soldiers lay on stretchers in the hospital and prayed. Others asked for cellphones to call their spouses and let them know they were alive. The vast majority of the bloodied soldiers had combat patches on their shoulders, indicating that they had done at least one tour in the war zone.

Maj. Stephen Beckwith, a doctor at the Darnall hospital, said the large number of troops with multiple gunshot wounds stunned him. "It was hard to imagine one person did all that shooting."

Like the soldiers, many of the doctors at the Darnall facility had served in Iraq and were accustomed to treating waves of wounded soldiers and civilians from car bombings. At the readiness center, military police officers moved in to search for other potential gunmen and to guard the crime scene. Sgt. Andrew Hagerman kept his head down to avoid stepping in the pools of blood or kicking any spent shell casings that littered the floor.

A sense of safety lost

By Friday morning, the sprawling base had begun to settle back into normalcy. Buses ferried children to school.

Casey and Army Secretary John M. McHugh, who had jetted in from Washington, stood in front of a large American flag, flapping in the breeze at half-staff, and vowed that the 36th Engineer Brigade, which suffered the majority of the casualties at the readiness center, would almost certainly deploy later this year as planned. "We will study this for lessons and adjust and adapt," Casey said. "I've already asked Army leaders to examine their force protection measures."

Hasan was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he remained unconscious.

After Casey and McHugh climbed back into their black SUVs with tinted windows, Spec. Elliot Valdez, of Lawton, Okla., was still struggling to process the carnage he'd seen a day earlier.

The Army journalist was in his final days at Fort Hood before shipping off to a post in Germany. He had been shooting a video of the graduation ceremony Thursday as a favor for a friend. Shortly after the gunfire erupted at the readiness center, bloodied soldiers burst into the graduation ceremony seeking protection and aid. Valdez dropped his camera and tended to the wounded.

Retelling his story over and over again for the crowds of reporters Friday, Valdez choked up. The massacre had shattered a sense of a safe community on his post, with its neatly trimmed lawns and litter-free streets.

He gestured toward a group of soldiers sitting in front of bright, plastic playground equipment. They represented the new reality on a post that had been a refuge from repeated overseas deployment and war. "It's weird that there are armed security guards in front of the day-care center," he said, his voice catching.

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