In aftermath of Fort Hood, community haunted by clues that went unheeded

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 Eli Saslow, Philip Rucker, William Wan and Mary Pat Flaherty
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nidal Hasan was causing a ruckus in his one-bedroom apartment during the early hours of Nov. 5, banging against the thin walls long after midnight, packing boxes and shredding papers until he woke up the tenants next door.

Maybe that was a clue.

He picked up the phone at 2:37 a.m. and dialed a neighbor. Nobody answered. Hasan called again three hours later, this time leaving a message. "Nice knowing you, friend," he said. "I'm moving on from here."

Maybe that was a clue, too.

He left Apartment 9 early that morning and stopped next door to see a woman named Patricia Villa, whom he had known for less than a month. He gave her a bag of frozen vegetables, some broccoli, a clothing steamer and an air mattress, explaining that he was about to be deployed to a war zone. Then Hasan visited another neighbor, a devout Christian, who looked at him quizzically when he handed her a copy of the Koran and recommended passages for her to read. "In my religion," Hasan told her, "we'll do anything to be closer to God."

Just before the break of dawn in Killeen, Tex., Hasan drove away from the Casa Del Norte apartment complex and stopped for his customary breakfast at a nearby 7-Eleven. The store's owner, wary of him, had spent the past month pretending to be absent whenever Hasan entered. This time, Hasan approached the counter with coffee and hash browns at 6:22 a.m., wearing an Arab robe and a white kufi cap. Before fiddling in his pockets for change, buying his breakfast and driving away to work at Fort Hood, he smiled at another customer and issued what sounded like a warning.

"There's going to be big action on post around 1:30," he said, according to witnesses. "Be prepared."

Clues -- he left them everywhere. When viewed in retrospect, Hasan's life becomes an apparent trail of evidence that leads to an inevitable end. At 1:34 p.m. on Nov. 5, he bowed his head in prayer during his regular shift at Fort Hood, opened his eyes and started shooting, witnesses said. The 39-year-old Army psychiatrist allegedly aimed for soldiers in uniform, firing more than 100 times with a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver. The terror lasted less than 10 minutes. Thirteen people died. Thirty were injured.

Now, more than seven weeks later, what is left of the Fort Hood tragedy is a community haunted by clues that somehow went unheeded. During a week in which the government has lamented missed signals in the case of an attempted bombing on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, there remain unresolved questions about how so many signals could have passed unnoticed before the Fort Hood shootings. While the Pentagon, the Army and the FBI work to complete investigations of Hasan with findings due next month, his former friends and colleagues sift backward through his biography and search for answers of their own.

This story, which attempts to fill in that biography, is based on interviews with 100 people who lived, worked or prayed with Hasan in Texas, the District, Virginia and Maryland -- a group now united by its obsession with the same troubling questions.

How do you differentiate between pious and fanatical?

Between lonely and isolated?

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