Answers Sought After Deadly Fort Hood Shooting

Originally published on April 3, 2014 1:45 pm

The Army’s top civilian official says the soldier accused in the Fort Hood shooting this week was deployed for the final months of the Iraq war but did not see combat.

Three people died and 16 were wounded before the shooter committed suicide. At least three military personnel remain in critical condition.

Army Secretary John McHugh testified Thursday that the soldier appeared to have no connections to extremist groups.

The soldier is identified by others as Ivan Lopez. He enlisted in the Army in June 2008 as an infantryman and later switched his specialty to truck driver, the job he had in Iraq.

McHugh says the soldier was examined by a psychiatrist last month and was found to show no violent or suicidal tendencies. He says the soldier had been prescribed Ambien to deal with a sleeping problem.

KUT reporter Kate McGee has been covering the story and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with details.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And in a few minutes, we'll speak with NPR's Ina Jaffe about her reporting that Americans are working instead of retiring.

YOUNG: OK, we'll have that, but first Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the suspected shooter in last night's Fort Hood shooting did not see combat in Iraq, had not been wounded there, though he was being treated for anxiety, and depression and sleep issues.

On the other hand, when asked if PTSD was a factor in the shooting, the team at the Scott and White Memorial Hospital in nearby Temple, Texas, said it was but for the shooting victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Many of them have come back and had combat experience. So you're imagining they're getting into a safe place and seeing family and now having this kind of violence. The likelihood that somebody would have a difficult emotional response to that is high.

YOUNG: NPR has identified the shooter as 34-year-old Ivan Lopez, a father, native of Puerto Rico. He allegedly killed three people and wounded several before killing himself with a Smith & Wesson he pulled from his clothing. Of course this is less than five years after the mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 that left 13 dead, the worst attack on a domestic U.S. military installation in history. After that, guns were largely banned on the base.

Kate McGee is a reporter for KUT. She joins us now. And Kate, just your sense of how this is reverberating in your area.

KATE MCGEE, BYLINE: Hi Robin. Well, you know, after the shooting, the first, you know, thought from many people in the Killeen and Fort Hood area was the 2009 shooting when 13 people were killed and more than 30 wounded. You know, yesterday some of the doctors who were treating these patients, you know, said that the 2009 shooting was very much on their minds. Many of them had treated the patients from 2009. And the same was for - seen for many of the people who live on-base.

They couldn't get in touch with their loved ones. The base was shut down immediately and was on lockdown, and there was a lack of contact that added to, you know, the anxiety of an already tragic event. So a lot of memories emerging again from that 2009 shooting.

YOUNG: Well, and tell us, though, what we are learning more about the alleged shooter this time around, Ivan Lopez. We heard the Army Secretary John McHugh say that even though he served, Lopez served in Iraq, he was I believe a truck driver for several months, he did not see any combat, was not injured. And yet we're also reading reports that Lopez, again the alleged shooter, had self-reported a traumatic brain injury after he returned from Iraq.

MCGEE: Right, and I think that's where a lot of the questions will come at the 3 p.m. briefing today. There was a lot of unknowns surrounding the shooter, who the Fort Hood officials have not officially yet in a press briefing, and more of those questions will be answered, giving more details about his background, what he was doing at Fort Hood.

He had transferred to Fort Hood in February from another base in Texas. Why that was, what he was doing on the base, those are hoping to be some of the questions we can get answered later this afternoon.

YOUNG: We are hearing people like retired Army General Major James Spider Marks on CNN saying, you know, questioning why somebody who had any issues at all and was being treated for emotional health was transferred in the middle of treatment. But again, as you said, the list of question is longer than answers.

But do we know more about the gun that was being used? As we said, after the first Fort Hood massacre in 2009, a lot of restrictions were put in place, including guns that had to be registered if they were used on the base. They had to be kept in a separate area, new base regulations. Do we know any more about how this gun avoided that?

MCGEE: Right, that's another question that's still unclear. The gun was apparently purchased recently but was not registered with the base and not registered with the commander as is protocol. If you have a weapon, you have to alert your commander that you have one on base, and no concealed weapons are allowed on base, as well. So another issue that that will arise as to, you know, safety protocols regarding that.

That's a debate we're already kind of seeing happen in the news, you know, the fact that there have been two shootings on this base in the last five years. Does that change the idea of concealed carry on an Army post? You know, the commanding general yesterday said no, concealed carry was still a good idea. But we heard today from a congressman here, Congressman McCaul here in Texas that after the wake of this shooting, he would support concealed carry. So there's obviously some debate over this issue.

YOUNG: Well, and we know that previously after the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., there was a congressman from Texas, possibly the same one, who drew up legislation asking that troops, soldiers on bases be able to carry weapons. As we just said, after the first Fort shooting, there was a ban on guns. So this is obviously going to be a debate going forward.

MCGEE: Right, and I think that, you know, there is this idea that - and as your clip played earlier and mentioned, that there is a lot of men and women coming back who had served, who are coming back to the base and dealing with their own post-traumatic stress situations and coming back to a base that compared to combat is supposed to be, you know, a safe place.

When you have multiple shootings on a post like this, it raises questions and heightens anxiety about the safety concerns, which the commanding general yesterday said is something that they're going to be reviewing, even though there were changes put in place after 2009, you know, going back and seeing what else might be done to enhance security.

YOUNG: Kate McGee at KUT there in Texas, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MCGEE: Thanks Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.