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Officer describes shooting, triage

Witnesses against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan recount the carnage at Ft. Hood.

August 09, 2013|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

FT. HOOD, TEXAS — Sgt. 1st. Class Maria Guerra was heading to lunch in her office at this central Texas Army base on Nov. 5, 2009, when she heard the first shots of what would become the deadliest shooting on a U.S. military installation.

Guerra, a tough officer who curses when she's angry, opened the door and shouted, cussing and demanding to know what was going on in her building.

Someone yelled: "Shooter, shooter!"

That's when Guerra saw the figure in fatigues with a handgun. Guerra was among 15 witnesses who described the carnage in graphic detail Thursday at the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

Hasan, 42, is representing himself with the aid of military legal advisors on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted by a jury of 13 fellow officers, the Army psychiatrist could be sentenced to death.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 10, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Ft. Hood shooting: In the Aug. 9 Section A, an article about the court-martial of accused Ft. Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan said that shooting witness Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra considered Hasan a fellow officer, and the headline identified her as an officer. Guerra is a non-commissioned officer.

Hasan's legal advisors had asked the judge to modify their role and vowed to appeal if she didn't, complaining that Hasan wanted a death sentence and that assisting him was unethical. The judge on Thursday refused, ordering that the trial -- which has been delayed for years -- must proceed.

Guerra, of Chino Hills, Calif., took the stand shortly after noon, a box of tissues in front of her. Unlike Hasan, who has insisted on wearing informal fatigues and a beard in violation of Army regulations, Guerra wore her dress uniform.

At the time of the shooting, she was managing a crowded medical facility that provided treatment for those about to deploy.

As she headed to her office for lunch, Guerra said, she saw Hasan waiting. She didn't know the Army psychiatrist, but recognized him as a fellow officer, and planned to talk to him after eating.

The next time she saw Hasan, moments later, she was peering out her office door as he took aim at fellow soldiers, "very efficiently dropping his magazine and coming up with another magazine -- I mean, it was seconds," she said. "Down came the magazine, up came another one ... he was firing at anyone who was moving and anyone who was trying to get out of the building."

Someone called out, "When he reloads, get him!" and then, "He's reloading, get him!"

Guerra saw three men charge the attacker, one with a chair. But the shooter quickly reloaded and continued firing, striking two as the third fled, she said.

For some of her testimony Guerra used the present tense, as if watching the carnage unfold. She told of hearing screams, of people yelling, "Move, move -- he's coming!" and then, "Please don't!" and "My baby, my baby!"

"And then I hear shots," Guerra said.

The prosecutor, apparently referring to the person shouting about a baby, asked, "Do you hear that voice again, Sgt. Guerra?"

"No, I do not," she said.

Among those killed in the attack was Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago, who was three months pregnant.

At this point in Guerra's testimony, Hasan objected, one of his first objections during the trial, which started this week.

"Would you remind 1st Sgt. Guerra that she's under oath," he said to the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, who did so.

It was not clear why Hasan objected; he did not object again during Guerra's testimony and declined to cross-examine her or the other witnesses Thursday. The American-born Muslim admitted to the shooting during opening statements and has attempted to defend himself by arguing he targeted deploying soldiers to protect the Taliban.

Guerra resumed her testimony, saying the room was silent and dark with smoke so thick she could taste it. Others testified that they saw the red laser attached to Hasan's pistol moving methodically through the haze.

"I see bodies; I see bodies everywhere, and I see blood," Guerra said, her voice breaking.

Guerra watched people flee, leaving behind the wounded and dead in pools of what witnesses described as blood, guts and feces as the sound of shooting approached from outside.

After Hasan left the room, she said, she ran to the front doors, tied her belt around the handles and wedged a folding chair inside to barricade against the shooter, shouting "Triage!" On the ground nearby, she saw one of her medical personnel, Michael Grant Cahill, 62, of Cameron, Texas. She checked his pulse, but he was turning purple and not breathing, his eyes wide.

Guerra said she then went on to Sgt. Amy Krueger, 29, of Kiel, Wis., whom she knew only by her name tag. Krueger was on her back making a guttural sound, her pupils pinpoints. Guerra flipped her over to find the spot where she had been shot in the back.

"When I turned her back over, she was not making any more sounds, so I moved on," Guerra said.

She found a slender young soldier sitting in a chair where he had been waiting for treatment and chatting about his impending deployment, Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, 19, of West Jordan, Utah.

"He didn't have a chance to get up out of his seat," Guerra said. "His eyes were open and he was white as a ghost."

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