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Hasan repeatedly visited firing range before Fort Hood rampage

By Angela K. Brown and Michael Graczyk
Friday, October 22, 2010; A11

FORT HOOD, TEX. - In the weeks before the deadly rampage at Fort Hood, an Army psychiatrist repeatedly visited a firing range to hone his skills with his new laser-equipped semiautomatic handgun by shooting at the heads on silhouette targets, witnesses said at a military hearing Thursday.

Maj. Nidal M. Hasan bought an FN Five-seven semiautomatic handgun on Aug. 1, a few weeks after he entered Guns Galore and requested "the most high-tech weapon we had," said Fredrick Brannon, a former employee of the store. He said Hasan seemed to have little knowledge about guns.

The Article 32 hearing will determine whether Hasan should stand trial on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 attack.

Lt. Col. James Pohl, the investigating officer in the case, delayed the hearing after prosecutors finished presenting evidence and set it to resume Nov. 15, when defense attorneys will say whether they'll present evidence. They sought the delay so a defense expert could complete a psychiatric evaluation of their client.

Hasan was shot by police during the attack, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He has been attending the hearing in a wheelchair. Hasan remains jailed, as the military justice system does not offer bail.

In court Thursday, prosecutors showed a video that they said Hasan recorded on his cellphone of the gun store manager in nearby Killeen demonstrating how to use the weapon - including reloading and cleaning it. The footage does not show Hasan, but he can be heard saying "Okay" several times as the manager - who did not testify - gave him detailed instructions.

John Choats, part owner of Stan's Outdoor Shooting Range and a certified shooting instructor, said Hasan completed a class on concealed handguns on Oct. 10, 2009, and bought a membership at the shooting range in Florence, about 20 miles south of Killeen. He returned once or twice a week, Choats said.

Hasan chose silhouette targets rather than bulls-eye targets, aiming at the head and chest from 100 yards away, and began to improve his accuracy, Choats said.

"Most of the time in training it's [aiming for] entirely center mass, the chest and abdominal" region, he said, when asked by a defense attorney whether he noticed anything unusual about the target practice.

During seven days of testimony, 56 witnesses testified, including more than two dozen soldiers who were wounded in the shooting in a medical building where they receive vaccines and tests before deployment. Many witnesses said a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform stood near the front door, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" - "God is great!" in Arabic - and opened fired in a crowded waiting area.

He kept firing rapidly, pausing only to reload, and shot people as they hid under tables or curled up in chairs - even shooting soldiers who had run outside.

Brannon also said Thursday that after buying the gun, Hasan returned to the store every week or two to buy ammunition - up to eight boxes a week at $23.99 per box of 50 bullets. He said Hasan also bought extensions for ammunition clips, boosting the capacity to 30 rounds.

Brannon once asked him about it.

"He said he didn't like spending time loading magazines when he was at the range," Brannon said.

After the hearing, Pohl will recommend whether Hasan should go to trial and Fort Hood's commanding general will make that decision.

- Associated Press

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