Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan gave away bags of frozen broccoli and even a few copies of the Koran as he emptied out his apartment in preparation for deployment, telling one neighbor, "Nice knowing you, old friend. I'm going to miss you."
The veteran Army psychiatrist, who specialized in helping soldiers deal with war trauma, had grown disillusioned with the war, seeing its impact on soldiers and how it conflicted with his faith -- points he had allegedly made in public and on the Internet.
When newly-elected President Obama failed to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Hasan's spirits fell further. His outspoken negative views on the war, coupled with his wearing Muslim dress off-base, had caused fellow soldiers to target him with verbal abuse, family members recalled, only deepening Hasan's anger. An attempt to get discharged from the Army failed.
But to go from anguish, disillusionment, and anger over his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan to turning a .357 Magnum and a PN 5.7 pistol on fellow soldiers is still a mystery to stunned and grieving Fort Hood soldiers and the greater US military family.
Motive still a mystery
Whether the rampage is a singular incident or indicative of eight years of war’s mental effect on soldiers, those here who witnessed the rampage and are dealing with its aftermath can only surmise that the war had burst into their "home" -- deep into a sanctuary where "you're not supposed to have to be on guard, ready to get shot," says Sgt. Christopher Gray.
As for Hasan's motive, Sgt. Gray said he really doesn’t care at this point. "A guy on our own team? Ridiculous.”
Indeed, motive is still not completely clear, and so far Hasan remains unconscious in serious but stable condition at a hospital in San Antonio. The FBI and Army investigators have scoured his off-base apartment and computers, looking for clues. So far, they've found no links to any terror organization.
Meanwhile, eyewitness accounts reveal a timeline of the short, but intense rampage where over 100 bullets were fired, leaving 13 dead and as many as 38 injured, some still in area hospitals. Over 300 soldiers in various stages of deployment and return had come to the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood for a series of bureaucratic, boring, but necessary paperwork and medical procedures.
While those soldiers moved unknowingly toward a day of terror, Hasan may have done so knowingly, according to Army sources.
At approximately 1:30 on Thursday, soldiers say they saw Hasan sitting quietly at a table in the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, a large warren of rooms designed for what most soldiers see as the banal bureaucracy of life in the Army. It wouldn't be unusual to see an Army psychiatrist there. Hasan worked at a nearby hospital, where many of wounded would later be rushed.
Then the shooting started
Witnesses say Hasan whispered something -- perhaps a prayer -- and stood up. With a cry of "Allahu Akbar" -- "Praise be to God" -- he opened fire with two handguns -- one a .357, the other a semiautomatic with a laser sight -- reloading as ammunition ran out, according to Lt. Gen Robert Cone, the base commander.
Pfc. Marquest Smith, a young soldier who had never been to war, dropped to the ground. A round nicked the tall, bespectacled soldier's boot.
"All I heard was popping noises," Smith said, followed by screaming and moaning. "Somebody's got a gun!" a soldier yelled. Outside the cubicle where Smith had taken cover, the scene was gruesome. "There were chairs, blood, tables," Smith said.
Confusion and panic reigned, says Sgt. Gray, whose Third Corps saw several casualties. He got a call from a panicked friend on the scene. "You've got to get a hold of yourself," he yelled back into the phone.
As Hasan moved in a semicircular pattern in the room, firing, base police officer Sgt. Kimberly Munley and her partner, Sgt. Mark Todd, heard a call on the radio about something going down at the readiness center. They were close by. They heard shots as they exited their car. They separated to get a bead on the shooter's location. Hasan had by then exited the building.
Sgt. Munley confronts the shooter
Munley rounded a corner between two buildings and found herself only feet from Hasan, who turned and charged at her and fired, hitting her three times. Munley, a firearms expert and mother from North Carolina, returned fire with four shots. Military officials credit her and Sgt. Todd's reaction for bringing the rampage to an end.
In the aftermath, some wounded soldiers drove themselves to the hospital; others hauled their friends into pickup trucks. At the scene, medics and volunteers tore off pieces of clothing to use as bandages.
According to the Associated Press, those killed included a pregnant woman preparing to return home, a man who quit a furniture company job to join the military about a year ago, a newlywed who had served in Iraq, and a woman who had vowed to take on Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
President Obama on Saturday morning hailed the heroism of those at the scene. "Thursday's shooting was one of the most devastating ever committed on an American military base," Mr. Obama said in prepared remarks. "And yet, even as we saw the worst of human nature on full display, we also saw the best of America."
While cautioning Americans to not draw hasty conclusions about the rampage, Obama also remarked on the religious diversity of American military personnel. "They are Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelievers," he said.
At a prayer vigil Friday night, the Army's chief chaplain, Major General Douglas Carver, said that, together, "we will reclaim safety and security for this community."
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