FT. HOOD, TEXAS — In the end, the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood came down to a gunfight between two civilian base police officers toting standard sidearms and a 39-year-old psychiatrist armed with .357 Magnum and a pistol equipped with laser sighting and extra bullets, officials said.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, disturbed about his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan (not Iraq, contrary to earlier reports), reportedly entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center just before 1:30 p.m. Thursday. He took a seat at a table.
It seemed as if he was there to help soldiers who were undergoing medical exams and finishing paperwork before shipping out to war. Hasan, who had prayed at his mosque that morning, allegedly mumbled something to himself -- it may have been a prayer -- then jumped up. Witnesses reported that he said: "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great."
After that, the blood began to flow. Thirteen people would die; 38 others were injured.
As investigators began their probe into the motivations of the gunman, President Obama urged people Friday to reserve judgment until more is known. Base commander Lt. Gen. Robert Cone said that Hasan remained hospitalized, unconscious and on a ventilator.
Friday, as government officials and eyewitnesses gave their accounts, a clearer picture of the attack emerged.
When the shooting began, 138 soldiers were about to celebrate their college graduation with hundreds of relatives and friends in an auditorium nearby. Alarmed, many leaped to their feet, threw off their caps and gowns and rushed to the chaotic scene.
Inside the Readiness Center, Pfc. Marquest Smith, 21, was in a cubicle, across the desk from an employee, finishing paperwork ahead of his deployment in January to Afghanistan.
"All I heard was popping noises," Smith said. The noise was followed by something more ominous: screaming and moaning. Then, "Somebody's got a gun!"
The next minutes were frenzied. He pushed the employee under her desk. A bullet nicked the heel of his right boot. Outside the cubicle, the scene was grotesque. "There were chairs, blood, tables," Smith said.
Smith dragged several victims outside and returned to help others. He kept hearing popping. Then a pause. Then whispers: "He's reloading!" Smith saw the gunman, whose back was to him. He ran outside. The gunman fired after him.
It takes seconds to place a new magazine into a pistol's grip; the gunman reloaded more than once, investigators said, and moved around the crowded room in a half-moon pattern before going outside into a courtyard.
Police Sgt. Kimberly Munley and her partner, Sgt. Mark Todd, heard a radio report and raced toward the action. As the gunman was shooting at a wounded soldier, said Chuck Medley, Ft. Hood's director of emergency services, Munley rounded a corner between two buildings and spotted him. They exchanged fire.
A firearms instructor and SWAT team member who had trained for such a moment, Munley shot at the gunman with her 9-millimeter Beretta. He charged her, and they exchanged fire.
Todd, who had become separated from Munley, saw that she had been shot. Hasan was 15 yards from him, Todd told CNN, "standing there hiding behind a telephone pole waving his weapon, firing it at people." Todd said Hasan saw him, calmly pointed and shot. Todd couldn't see a weapon -- only a muzzle flash -- and fired back. Hasan, who by then had allegedly shot 100 rounds, fell.
Munley took bullets in each thigh and one in her wrist, which she later dismissed as "minor scratches."
Smith's buddy Jeffrey Pearsall, also a 21-year-old private, was sitting in his white Ford F-150 in a nearby parking lot. Suddenly, people began rushing his way. He was confused -- maybe it was a fire? Then he spotted a soldier covered in blood. And right after that, two friends, leaning on each other, pain etched on their faces.
Get in, get in, he urged as they came toward his truck. They got into the truck's bed. Smith jumped in too, and Pearsall rushed toward the hospital.
"Stop!" Smith yelled.
They had left one of their wounded friends behind. Smith hopped out and ran a mile back toward the Readiness Center. His wounded friend already had gotten into his own car and was driving erratically to escape the horrific scene. Smith took the wheel.
At the base hospital, Pearsall pounded on the emergency room door. No answer. He began to panic, and pounded on a window. Finally, a nurse appeared. "We got people shot that need help!" he said.
Sgt. Andrew Hagerman, 27, a military police officer, was patrolling a residential neighborhood on the base when he heard the distress call on his radio: Shots fired! Officer down!
He sped to the Readiness Center, where he encountered a terrible sight: People were running, bleeding, screaming for medics. Victims were splayed on the ground. Soldiers had torn up their shirts and uniforms to stanch the bleeding of their wounded comrades. Others broke tables to use as stretchers.