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Second Deadly Shooting At Fort Hood Raises Multiple Questions

Apr 4, 2014
Originally published on April 4, 2014 7:22 am
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Almost by definition, the man who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas this week was mentally ill. But authorities say they have yet to find any advance warning that he was dangerous. Ivan Lopez had been treated for common mental health problems, but nothing demonstrates just what caused him to kill three soldiers and then himself.

NPR's John Burnett is at the huge military base that is trying to return to normal.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Army officials are emphasizing that despite Ivan Lopez being a mentally troubled soldier, his violent behavior was unpredictable.

John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, told a Senate hearing yesterday that Lopez had been treated for depression, anxiety and sleeplessness, but he had a clean record. He was examined by a military psychiatrist just last month. McHugh said investigators poring over Lopez's medical records found no major misbehaviors.

JOHN MCHUGH: As of this morning, we had no indication on the record of that examination that there was any sign of likely violence either to himself or to others, no suicidal ideation.

BURNETT: Yesterday afternoon, Lieutenant General Mark Milley addressed a throng of journalists at Fort Hood's visitor center. He said officials believe they have very strong evidence that Lopez's unstable psychiatric condition is what led to the shootings. Furthermore, the commander said, there's a strong possibility that a verbal altercation with other soldiers could have caused Lopez to snap, but Milley didn't go into specifics.

Lopez is believed to have used his personal weapon - a 45 handgun - in the mass shooting; soldiers are allowed to own private weapons off-post. Milley was asked if there's anything more that Fort Hood can do to prevent soldiers from bringing unauthorized guns onto the facility.

LT. GEN. MARK MILLEY: As you know, Fort Hood's a big installation, we've got about 70 or 80,000 folks here that work on a day-to-day basis. It would not be realistic to do a pat-down search on every single soldier and employee at Fort Hood for a weapon on a daily basis.

BURNETT: The general singled out the heroism of the female military police officer who confronted Lopez and discharged her weapon at him, just before he shot himself in the head. And he praised an unnamed Army chaplain.

MILLEY: There's at least one chaplain that I'm aware of that shielded and saved other soldiers, broke some windows and got them to safety.

BURNETT: Military officials said Specialist Lopez had not seen combat in Iraq, and had not been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. He was, however, at the time of his suicide, being evaluated for PTSD.

This fact concerns a group of soldiers and veterans who frequent an anti-war coffeehouse called Under the Hood. It's located in a ramshackle house in central Killeen with a poster on the wall that proclaims, Make Art Not War.

The manager is a 28-year-old Texas National Guard and Iraq war vet named Malachi Muncy.

MALACHI MUNCY: We get people coming here with PTSD who have maybe not had the best time seeking care for that.

BURNETT: Muncy stresses that he did not know Ivan Lopez or the specifics of his problems, but that many active-duty soldiers have sought out the coffeehouse as a resource center that provides an alternative to the military medical system.

MUNCY: It's not always as simple as saying, oh, I have a problem, I need care. And the doctor saying, oh, you're right. Here's your issue. And, you know, it's not very clean, the process, for seeking care.

BURNETT: Muncy says at Under the Hood, they hear about the common symptoms of stress-related disorders, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and suicide. He's not suggesting that PTSD manifests itself in homicide, but that the modern warrior culture has a price.

MUNCY: We're going to see the effects of, you know; these wars and the trauma of these wars play out in the collective psyche of our community for a number of years, for quite awhile longer.

BURNETT: Fort Hood is planning a memorial service next week for the victims of the April 2nd shooting. Under the Hood Coffeehouse is planning its own vigil.

John Burnett, NPR News, Killeen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.