Now That Officials Know Who Shooter Was, Questions Turn To Why

More is being learned about Specialist Ivan Lopez, the soldier responsible for Wednesday's shootings at Fort Hood. Top Army leaders say Lopez saw a psychiatrist in March and was taking medication.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel, and we start this hour in Texas, at Fort Hood, where the Army has publicly identified the soldier who allegedly killed three people and injured 16 more yesterday before he turned his weapon on himself.

LT. GEN. MARK MILLEY: We are able to release. His next of kin have been notified. The alleged shooter is Spc. Ivan A. Lopez. He is 34 years old, originally from Puerto Rico.

SIEGEL: That's the commander of Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, speaking to reporters this afternoon. NPR's John Burnett was there, and he begins our coverage.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Some important new details trickled out today that helped to answer the question why a 34-year-old truck driver in the U.S. Army would take a handgun and start blasting away at his fellow soldiers. Gen. Mark Milley told reporters today there's a strong possibility that the trigger for the fusillade at Fort Hood was a verbal altercation with other soldiers. He said there's no indication that Spc. Lopez was targeting specific individuals. In another important detail, the commanding general said - 24 hours after the shooting - that military criminal investigators are closing in on Lopez' mental state.

MILLEY: We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological condition; gone through all the records to ensure that that is, in fact, correct. But we believe that to be a fundamental, underlying causal factor.

BURNETT: We have learned that Lopez sought help for depression, anxiety and sleep disorder. He was on medication, and he was being diagnosed for post-traumatic stress disorder. Milley confirmed that Lopez bought his 45-caliber Smith & Wesson 45 pistol on March 1st at a local gun dealer called Guns Galore. The general did not know why, if Lopez had an unstable psychiatric condition and was under the care of a military psychiatrist, why that information was not reported when Lopez had to undergo a background check to buy the handgun last month. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Mental health treatment is not part of a firearm background check.]

Milley was asked what Fort Hood could do to prevent soldiers from bringing their private weapons on to the post - which can only be done with special authorization. He said that 70,000 to 80,000 people work at the sprawling Army installation each day, and it's not realistic to pat down every soldier and civilian employee at the gate.

Killeen is a no-nonsense military town whose main drag is crowded with tatoo parlors and pawn shops. This morning, I spoke with Spc. Curtis Price, who was pumping gas. He said he was on Fort Hood yesterday afternoon when the shooting started. He's 24 years old; from Cleveland, Ohio. He's done two tours in Iraq.

SPC. CURTIS PRICE: All of a sudden, I see all these cop cars heading in one direction, and I see a lot of people running from the area that I was heading towards and hiding behind their cars. And me also being from Cleveland, when you see people ducking behind cars, you don't want to be in that area. So lucky for me, I was already in my vehicle, and I just put it in reverse and got up out of there.

BURNETT: Secretary of the Army John McHugh said earlier today that Lopez had driven a truck in Iraq for four months at the end of 2011, when the U.S. force there was downsizing, and that Lopez had no direct combat duty. Soldiers in Killeen, like Curtis Price, are asking privately, why he cracked.

PRICE: The military, it's not for the weak. And I'm not calling Spc. Lopez weak or anything. But honestly, I feel like he should have dealt with his problems head on, and got the help that you can get out there because there is help for us soldiers. And if he'd have reached out, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.

BURNETT: According to Army officials, he did reach out. Lopez sought help for depression, anxiety and sleep disorder. He was on medication. And he was being diagnosed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

BURNETT: Invariably, yesterday's tragedy dredged up fresh memories of the shooting rampage on November 5, 2009. That was the day Army Major Nidal Hasan yelled "God is great" in Arabic, and fatally shot 13 people and injured 32. He was tried by a military jury, and sentenced to death.

BOB ROBERTS: You don't expect lightning to strike twice in the same place.

BURNETT: Bob Roberts is a disaster program specialist with the Heart of Texas Chapter of the American Red Cross. He was here five years ago.

ROBERTS: Bad things happen, you know, all over the place. But Fort Hood is a strong community, and they all rally together - the city of Kileen - and it actually brings in the community a lot closer, a lot tighter.

BURNETT: People are still puzzling over the disquieting question - Why Fort Hood, and why again? John Burnett, NPR News, Killeen, Texas.

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Correction April 4, 2014

We incorrectly imply that mental health treatment would be part of a firearm background check. That is not the case.

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