An Iraq war veteran who was grappling with mental health issues opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., in an attack that left four people dead and 16 wounded Wednesday afternoon, according to preliminary law enforcement and military reports. The gunfire sent tremors of fear across a sprawling Army post still reeling from one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
Many basic details about the shooting remained unclear in the chaotic hours after the first calls for help around 4 p.m., but senior U.S. law enforcement officials said the incident did not appear to be linked to any foreign terrorist organizations. The shooter was among those who died, the officials said.
The officials identified the shooter as Army Spec. Ivan Lopez, 34, a military truck driver, who was dressed in his standard-issue green camouflage uniform. Lopez opened fire in two locations on the vast central Texas post, inside a building housing the 1st Medical Brigade and in a facility belonging to the 49th Transportation Battalion.
Police spent Wednesday night searching his apartment in Killeen, the city that abuts the Army facility. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said the soldier, whom he did not identify by name, served four months in Iraq in 2011.
Milley said the shooter “had behavioral health and mental health issues.” He said the soldier, who self-reported a traumatic brain injury and was taking anti-depressants, had been under examination to determine whether he had post-traumatic stress disorder. “We are digging deep into his background,” Milley said.
Milley said the soldier opened fire with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol that was purchased recently but was not authorized to be brought on the post. He was eventually confronted by a female military police officer. He put his hands up but then pulled out a gun from under his jacket. “She engaged,” Milley said, and then the soldier put the gun to his head and shot himself.
The shooting was the third major gun attack at a U.S. military installation in five years, leaving the nation grappling with the prospect of yet more flag-draped funerals for troops killed on the homefront. A government contractor went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in September, leaving 12 people dead. In 2009, Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan opened fire on a group of soldiers at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, killing 13 people and wounding more than 30.
Doctors at the Scott & White hospital in Temple, Tex., said Wednesday that they have treated eight of the wounded and that one more was on the way. Three of the patients were in critical condition in the ICU, and five were in serious condition. Seven of them were male, and one was female. Their injuries ranged from mild to life-threatening, a majority of them caused by single-gunshot wounds to the neck, chest and abdomen.
President Obama said he was “heartbroken that something like this might have happened again.” Speaking during a fundraising trip to Chicago, he pledged “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Although bases such as Fort Hood contain large storehouses of armaments, and many of their inhabitants have spent years at war, military posts are usually among the most idyllic communities in the country, a throwback to the 1950s, with manicured lawns, drivers who conscientiously abide by the speed limit and parents unafraid to allow their children to frolic out of sight.
In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a series of security changes at military installations, including more rigorous screening of personnel and the creation of an analysis center to examine “insider threats.”
“When we have these kinds of tragedies on our bases, something’s not working,” he said Wednesday evening during a visit to Hawaii. “We will continue to address the issue. Anytime you lose your people to these kinds of tragedies, it’s an issue, it’s a problem.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that many questions remained about the shooting but that a principal initial focus was to support the victims and their families. “This is a community that has faced and overcome crises with resilience and strength,” he said in a statement.
Soldiers based at Fort Hood were called upon, often repeatedly, to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. Those combat tours have exacted a profound physical and emotional toll on many troops. Others have rebounded quickly and are continuing their military careers or are transitioning into the civilian world.
Dozens of ambulances and law enforcement vehicles converged on the scene after the shooting. Several of the wounded were transported to area hospitals.
The post was placed on lockdown for much of the afternoon, with loudspeakers across the facility urging people to shelter in place. The order applied to thousands of families that live on the base. The order was lifted in the early evening, once law enforcement authorities had determined that a sole gunman was responsible for the shooting.
With the exception of military police officers, soldiers at Fort Hood and all other U.S. military installations are not armed or permitted to carry privately owned firearms. The restrictions on personal weapons were expanded in the wake of the 2009 massacre and an epidemic of suicides at Fort Hood, which is the largest active-duty armored post in the country. Current policy requires soldiers to register their personal weapons with their commanders and to keep those weapons in a secured room.
Hasan was convicted of multiple counts of murder last year and sentenced to death. He is on death row at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Hasan, who worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from 2003 to 2006, had been due to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks of the attack. At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence of his meticulous planning. The Army major and psychiatrist chose the most high-tech, high-capacity weapon available at a gun store in Killeen, Tex., and trained himself at a local firing range before giving away some of his belongings on the day of the shooting.
Shortly after 1 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2009, Hasan walked into Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center with two guns, shouted “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great,” and opened fire. He unleashed more than 200 rounds.
Twelve of the people who were killed were soldiers waiting for medical tests; the other was a civilian who tried to tackle the psychiatrist. Hasan was left paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by an Army police officer.
The shootings exposed a number of failings by the Defense Department, which a Pentagon report concluded was unprepared for internal threats. On one occasion, Hasan gave a presentation to senior Army doctors in which he discussed Islam and suicide bombers and warned that Muslims should be allowed to leave the armed forces as conscientious objectors to avoid “adverse events.”
Among those on the facility Wednesday was Matt Lausch, the chief of the Manassas, Va., volunteer fire department. He was working on his company’s contract to build a hospital on the grounds when the alert system warned the base to “seek shelter immediately.”
Lausch, who remained in a construction trailer, said a flood of emergency personnel could be seen and heard streaming across the post.
“There was a huge, huge response by police and first responders,” Lausch said. He and co-workers learned of the shooting from social media feeds once they locked themselves in the trailer.
Craig Whitlock, Mark Berman, Carol D. Leonnig, Ernesto Londoño, Clarence Williams and Julie Tate contributed to this report.