By Jeremy Schwartz, Philip Jankowski and Marty Toohey, Austin American-Statesman
AUSTIN, Texas—On March 1, Spc. Ivan Lopez walked into Guns Galore on the southern outskirts of Killeen and bought a .45-caliber Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol.
Around the same time, an Army psychiatrist gave the 34-year-old native of Puerto Rico a full evaluation. Lopez was undergoing treatment for depression, anxiety and sleeping disorders, and he had been prescribed a number of drugs, including the sleep aid Ambien.
His psychiatrist, however, concluded that he posed no threat of violence, either to himself or to others, Army Secretary John McHugh said Thursday.
A month later, he opened fire at the headquarters of his unit, the 49th Transportation Movement Control Battalion, which he had just joined in February. He killed three soldiers and wounded 16 others before turning the gun on himself Wednesday.
The identities of two of the slain soldiers emerged Thursday: Puerto Rican soldier Carlos Lazaney, 38, and Sgt. Timothy Owens, 37, of Illinois. Both were identified by family members to media outlets.
On Thursday, investigators continued to piece together the puzzle of Lopez, who according to senior military leaders, was “a very experienced soldier” who had served two overseas tours during more than a decade of military service.
Fort Hood Commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday there was a “strong indication” that the rampage was preceded by an argument with another soldier. Yet Milley concluded that there wasn’t evidence that Lopez was targeting specific soldiers.
And despite the psychiatrist’s evaluation that he posed no threat, Milley said Thursday that Lopez’s mental state led to the shooting rampage. Had medical professionals determined that Lopez was a threat, they would have been empowered to inquire about any gun purchases and ask him to turn in any personal weapons, according to Fort Hood policy.
Army officials repeated Thursday that they have found nothing linking Lopez to extremist or terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, more examples of heroism among the soldiers targeted by López emerged. Milley said the first 911 calls were made by two soldiers after they had been shot and wounded.
During the rampage, a chaplain, who Milley declined to name, helped shelter soldiers, breaking a window and allowing soldiers to escape safely.
And the rampage, which began in his unit’s headquarters, ended when a military police officer fired at Lopez in a parking lot after he drew his weapon on her. At that point, Lopez killed himself with a gunshot to the head, Milley said. It’s unclear if he was hit by any of the officer’s shots.
Fort Hood officials said a memorial service for the victims would be held early next week.
Three soldiers remain in serious condition at Scott & White Hospital-Temple. Three soldiers were at Fort Hood’s Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on Thursday evening, according to Fort Hood. Ten soldiers have been treated and released.
For many in the Fort Hood area, the shooting brought back unwelcome memories of the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting, in which 13 were killed and more than 30 wounded. Survivors of that attack called Thursday for increased security measures at military installations.
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, injured in the 2009 attack, placed blame for the shooting on the government.
“How many lives are going to have to be lost before the powers that be strengthen security on base?” Lunsford told The Austin American-Statesman.
Last month, a panel convened after last year’s deadly shooting at the Washington Navy Yard called for just such an overhaul. “For decades, the Department (of Defense) has approached security from a perimeter perspective,” former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton told reporters. “That approach is outmoded, it is broken, and the department needs to replace it. … What the Department of Defense should do is build security from within.”
At Lopez’s residence in Terrace Heights Apartments in Killeen, neighbors said they were unsettled to learn the man identified as the shooter lived so close.
“It freaked me out,” Daz Briggins said.
Iesha Bradley said Lopez’s wife was crying uncontrollably after it was reported that her husband was the shooter and that he was dead. Bradley and others attempted to console her.
On Wednesday night, First United Methodist Church in Killeen held a prayer vigil that drew 65 or so members. None of the church members were among the victims, “but obviously, there was anxiety and concern, especially among those who were here in 2009,” lead pastor Jeff Miller said.
Milley promised an “external investigation” into Fort Hood’s mental health programs in coming weeks to probe for any gaps. After the 2009 shooting, officials found shortages of behavioral health specialists and conducted a similar evaluation of the post’s mental health capacity.
While suicides at Fort Hood spiked in recent years, hitting a record 22 in 2010, suicides dipped to just seven last year, the lowest since 2007. Reported suicide attempts, however, increased in 2013.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), called military mental health issues among the “most vexing” facing the nation, but also urged caution in characterizing combat veterans. “We have to be very careful not to paint with too broad a brush,” Cornyn said Thursday outside the gates of Fort Hood. “We shouldn’t stigmatize healthy people who are resilient.”
afp.com / Jim Watson