Focus At Fort Hood Shifts To Reported Argument Before Shooting

The shooting this week at Fort Hood has raised questions about securing military bases and providing adequate mental health care for soldiers. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with reporter Kirk Siegler about the latest at Fort Hood.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Fort Hood, Texas, this weekend, investigators and forensic specialists with the U.S. Army and FBI are combing through a crime scene covering two blocks as they try to find clues to why a gunman went on a shooting rampage Wednesday that left four people dead and 16 wounded. The military acknowledges they may never find out why the alleged gunman, Specialist Ivan Lopez, did what he did.

Authorities say Lopez shot himself during the confrontation with a military police officer that ended the shooting spree. Yesterday, officials at the base in Central Texas pointed to evidence that suggests an argument may have been what started the shooting spree. This is a departure from previous theories about the case, which focused on Lopez's mental health.

NPR's Kirk Siegler is at the Fort Hood army base. And, Kirk, what more are we learning about the investigation?

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Well, military officials do not believe that Lopez had plans to target any one person in particular. After this initial confrontation and argument, which they say led to a shooting occurred, authorities say he then continued on in his own vehicle, firing randomly at people as he passed by. And he eventually, of course, shot himself, the military says, during a confrontation with a police officer.

New York Times and other outlets, Kelly, are reporting today that Lopez may have been in some sort of a dispute with his superiors over requests for leave. We know from statements from his family members that Specialist Lopez had apparently been dealing with recent deaths of his grandfather and his mother.

MCEVERS: As we know, this week's shooting comes four years after the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history. Of course, that's when Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood. The two situations do appear to be pretty different, but it does raise questions about changes in security on the base and the welfare and mental health of soldiers. What have you learned about that?

SIEGLER: Well, that's right. You know, it's brought a real renewed focus, I think, on security here for sure and whether steps taken after the 2009 shooting rampage have been effective. You know, this is a massive base. It's 340-some square miles. That's roughly the size of Dallas. You have 60,000 people coming and going through the main gate here where I am on any given day.

You know, officials say it's not practical to search every car coming through here. But Specialist Lopez was like most soldiers here. You know, he was not allowed to carry a personal weapon, though that code is based largely on an honor system. The other thing, Kelly, with the sheer size of this post is that there's a thinking that, you know, some troubled soldiers could be slipping through the cracks and, you know, that not enough was done after the 2009 shootings to improve access to mental health and other services, you know, for all soldiers. You know, I think we can expect to see a lot more focus on this in the coming days.

MCEVERS: Kirk, officials released the names of the deceased from the latest shooting yesterday afternoon, three men besides the suspected gunman. What can you tell us about them?

SIEGLER: Well, first, we have 39-year-old Sergeant First Class Daniel Michael Ferguson. He was originally from Mulberry, Florida. He died reportedly while trying to barricade a door to keep the suspected gunman, Lopez, out. Ferguson first enlisted in 1993. He had served most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. There's 38-year-old Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez. He was originally from Puerto Rico. He had also just served two stents in Iraq. And 37-year-old Timothy Wayne Owens of Effingham, Illinois, was also killed.

A cousin of his told the local paper here that Owens grew up dreaming of serving in the military. All three men had been the recipients of numerous medals for their service. And, Kelly, Fort Hood is planning, as we've been reporting, a memorial service here Wednesday.

MCEVERS: NPR's Kirk Siegler talking to us from the U.S. Army's Fort Hood post in Central Texas. Kirk, thanks a lot.

SIEGLER: Glad to do it, Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: This is NPR News.

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