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Survivor of Ft. Hood shootings testifies

A victim shot five times and a witness testify at a hearing to determine whether Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at the Texas military base, will face court-martial.

October 14, 2010|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — Just after lunch on Nov. 5, an Army psychiatrist inside the medical processing center at Ft. Hood did something that mystified Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, the enlisted man in charge at the center that day.

Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, suddenly stood up, shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great" — and reached under his uniform top.

"I was wondering why he would say, 'Allahu Akbar,' " Lunsford recalled Wednesday at a hearing for Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 others that day.

As Lunsford struggled to make sense of what the psychiatrist was doing, he said, Hasan pulled out a handgun and opened fire on soldiers awaiting medical processing. An officer tried to smack Hasan with a chair, but Hasan shot him, Lunsford said.

After Lunsford crouched behind a counter, he recalled, Hasan spotted him. He and Hasan locked eyes. The red laser sight on Hasan's weapon flashed across Lunsford's face.

"I close my eyes and I get hit in the head," Lunsford testified.

He went down.

"The left side of my face is to the floor," Lunsford said. "Maj. Hasan, he's still firing. Blood is pooling under my face."

Lunsford lifted his head and saw Hasan approach, gun in hand.

"I think to myself, 'Dead men don't sweat. I'm too big to play dead.' I lift my face up and look at the back door."

As Lunsford testified, Hasan, 40, sat a few feet away in court, a pale, uniformed figure in a wheelchair, a blanket pulled tight around his shoulders and a knit cap on his head. It was the first time Hasan had been confronted with the testimony of a victim of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base. He betrayed no emotion.

Lunsford was the first of 32 survivors expected to testify at the Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether Hasan is tried at a court-martial. The hearing is scheduled to last several weeks, stretching past the one-year anniversary of the shootings.

The shock and terror of that day registered again Wednesday in the cramped courtroom, where relatives of the dead and wounded sat just behind Hasan.

To soldiers like Lunsford, a combat medic, it seemed incomprehensible not only that something very similar to combat was playing out on post on a workday afternoon, but also that a fellow soldier was killing his own.

"He's one of ours! He's one of ours!" a female lieutenant screamed, according to Lunsford, as the uniformed gunman fired at least 100 rounds from two handguns before he was shot and wounded by police.

Another witness, Michelle Harper, a civilian lab technician on duty the day of the shootings, described hiding under a desk with soldiers piled on top of her as Hasan methodically fired shot after shot at soldiers scrambling for cover inside the crowded center.

Harper said she managed to reach a 911 operator on her cellphone. In a 911 recording, played in court as Harper wept on the witness stand, Harper screamed, "Oh my God, everybody's shot!"

On the tape, Harper can be heard sobbing as wounded soldiers moan and the steady "pop, pop, pop" of gunfire echoes in the background.

"Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" Harper cried as the 911 operator pleaded with her to take a deep breath and calm down.

"Hurry, hurry, hurry, please!" Harper told the operator, begging for police help.

In court, Harper fought back tears as she described running toward a doorway to escape, only to have the gunman fire at a soldier next to her, hitting him three times.

"He fell to the ground.... I went back under the desk," she testified.

Harper listened to the gunman's slow footfalls as he made his way to where she and several soldiers were hiding.

"It was firing again," she said of the gun.

She said she managed to get up and run out a door to a parking lot as Hasan followed her outside. On a walkway, Harper said, she watched Hasan engage in a gun battle with a female police officer.

"I see Hasan shoot the officer, and she falls to the ground," Harper testified.

Still connected to the 911 operator, Harper ran to her car and drove away in a panic, crying loudly as her car careened across a grassy area and over a ditch.

"They're on their way, sweetheart," the 911 operator assured her, referring to police and ambulance crews.

Harper was not shot but said she suffered knee and back injuries from the soldiers who piled on top of her. Lunsford said he lost most of the vision in his left eye and underwent surgery to rebuild the left side of his face.

Lunsford apparently didn't realize in the chaotic moments after he was shot in the face that he was hit four more times before he stumbled out of the center and was treated outside by a nurse. In court, he stood up and pointed out his wounds, one by one:

One round through his left eye and out his left ear. Two rounds in his upper body, just under his left armpit. A round to the right of his spine. A final round through his lower back and out his stomach.

From the witnesses table, Hasan stared intently at Lunsford.

Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge who is the investigating officer at the hearing, asked Lunsford whether the gunman was in the courtroom. The sergeant stood to his full 6-foot-9 height and pointed at Hasan in his wheelchair.

"He's seated here, sir," he said.

david.zucchino@latimes.com

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