Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Fort Hood shooting: Residents begin long healing process

As investigators search for clues, officials offer comfort to a military community struggling to 'absorb the blow.'

November 08, 2009|Bob Drogin and Ashley Powers

FT. HOOD, TEXAS — After eight grueling years of casualties overseas and suicides at home, this vast Army base took an unusual step recently to aid soldiers and their families facing overwhelming grief.

A former chapel with stained-glass windows was transformed into a Spiritual Fitness Center. It offers counseling, soothing music, a religious library and meditation space, among other services, to help survivors cope with psychological trauma.

"When you're hit, you don't break," explained Brig. Gen. William Grimsley, deputy commanding general at Ft. Hood, the nation's largest Army base. "You absorb the blow."

Now, the center offers solace to those who survived an unimaginable tragedy: the shooting rampage Thursday, allegedly by a fellow soldier, that left 13 people dead.

FBI agents and other investigators swarmed over the base and surrounding area Saturday to interview those who knew Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, to determine whether the 39-year-old Army psychiatrist accused of planning and carrying out the shooting acted alone. No evidence has emerged to suggest that he had outside encouragement or support.

But forensic investigators are examining Hasan's computer, Internet accounts, bank reports and other records to document his movements and communications.

By Saturday afternoon, they had interviewed 170 witnesses, victims, co-workers and others, and more interviews are planned, officials said.

"The FBI and U.S. Army criminal investigators are aggressively investigating any and all information related to Maj. Hasan," said Erik Vasys, a special agent in the FBI's San Antonio field office.

Several FBI officials said that they had not found any clear warning signs that might have tipped off authorities before the killing spree began.

Hasan, who was shot four times, was taken off a respirator Saturday and is breathing on his own under armed guard in an intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, officials said.

Life at the base remained far from normal. Operating under conditions described as "slightly enhanced security," armed soldiers were deployed at housing areas, day-care centers and other base facilities that usually are not guarded.

Yellow crime-scene tape cordoned off the shooting site, the base's Soldier Readiness Processing Center. A pair of soldiers stood guard over the cluster of mostly single-story brown buildings with red roofs.

Soldiers with automatic weapons also kept watch over a Burger King, the base PX store, and the busy playground beside the Bronco Youth Center on Tank Destroyer Boulevard.

A base spokesman, Col. John Rossi, met reporters in the late afternoon to perform a timeworn military ritual: a roll call of the fallen. One by one, he solemnly read the names, ages and hometowns of the 12 soldiers and one civilian killed.

The dead included Pvt. Francheska Valez, a pregnant 21-year-old who was heading home to Chicago; Spc. Jason Dean Hunt, a newlywed who recently served in Iraq; and Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, a 55-year-old physician's assistant with six grandchildren.

"These heroes are so much more than simply names," Rossi said. "And I ask that we all take a moment to remember them all."

Nearly half of the 30 people wounded in the shooting have been released from hospitals. Dr. W. Roy Smythe, director of surgery at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, about 20 miles from Ft. Hood, said the killer shot his victims in the head, neck, chest, arms and legs. "The wounds were random," he said.

Some of the victims will be physically or psychologically impaired "for the rest of their lives," Smythe added.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who visited some of the patients at Scott & White, said that he was impressed by the survivors' valor. "I heard time after time in the hospital rooms that it's their honor to be able to serve their country, and that is a very humbling thing," he said.

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, will attend a memorial at the base Tuesday. In his radio address Saturday, Obama called the attack "all the more heartbreaking and all the more despicable" because it occurred on an Army base.

Obama lauded the two civilians -- Ft. Hood police Sgts. Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd -- who finally ended the carnage, it is believed, by shooting Hasan.

Obama said that although "we saw the worst of human nature on full display" in the shooting, "we also saw the best of America."

"We saw soldiers and civilians alike rushing to aid fallen comrades, tearing off bullet-riddled clothes to treat the injured, using blouses as tourniquets, taking down the shooter even as they bore wounds themselves," Obama said.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visited soldiers at the Army post hospital Friday night, the Associated Press reported.

After the shooting Thursday, Col. Bill Rabena, who runs the Spiritual Fitness Center, made six chaplains and six counselors available, with 10 more chaplains on standby.

They've talked to only a few dozen people, by phone and in person, but that could change.

"It takes a little while before the grieving starts," Rabena said.

At the 73rd Street chapel -- known on base as the chapel near the Popeyes Chicken -- the chaplain, Col. Frank Jackson, plans to speak about the shooting at today's service.

The people who live and work at Ft. Hood, he said, must "acknowledge the guilt, acknowledge the sadness, acknowledge the trauma."

When the outside attention inevitably fades, when the TV trucks leave and the president goes home, he said, "the people are still here."

--

bob.drogin@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

Josh Meyer in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|