Officials Begin Putting Shooting Pieces Together
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So, authorities have answered one question: They believe it was a single gunman. But in a way, that only deepens the mystery about Major Nidal Hasan. We've been learning more about him this morning, first from NPR's Tom Gjelten, who's covering this story.
Tom, good morning.
TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Who is he?
GJELTEN: Nidal Hasan was born here in the Washington, D.C. area in Arlington. His parents were Palestinian immigrants, it seems. He went to local schools, graduating from Virginia Tech, joined the Army. He spent basically his whole adult life in the Army. That's where he received his medical education. He was trained as a psychiatrist by the Army and served for several years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, ironically specializing in the treatment of combat stress. He was then transferred to Fort Hood earlier this year. He was due to be deployed, apparently to Afghanistan. We've heard from various sources that that bothered him, for whatever reason. We know he was a devout Muslim, took his faith very seriously. We can't say, of course, that that was relevant, here.
INSKEEP: OK, so due to be deployed, and you also mentioned that he spent a lot of time at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I want another - bring another voice into the conversation, here. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling has covered posttraumatic stress disorder over the years and has also spent a lot of time with people at Walter Reed.
And Daniel, good morning to you.
DANIEL ZWERDLING: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: I understanding you've spoken with someone who knew him, worked with him at Walter Reed.
ZWERDLING: Earlier today, I spoke to a psychiatrist who worked very closely with Hasan and knows him very well. And he said, you know, from the beginning -and Hasan was there for four years - the medical staff was very worried about this guy. He said the first thing is he's cold, unfriendly. At least that's who he came off. He did not do a good job as a psychiatrist in training, was repeatedly warned, you better shape up, or, you know, you're going to be in trouble. Did badly in his classes, seemed disinterested. But second of all - and this is, perhaps, you know, more relevant. The psychiatrist says that he was very proud and upfront about being Muslim. And psychiatrist hastened to say, and nobody minded that. But he seemed almost belligerent about being Muslim, and he gave a lecture one day that really freaked a lot of doctors out.
They have grand rounds, right? They, you know, dozens of medical staff come into an auditorium, and somebody stands at the podium at the front and gives a lecture about some academic issue, you know, what drugs to prescribe for what condition. But instead of that, he - Hasan apparently gave a long lecture on the Koran and talked about how if you don't believe, you are condemned to hell. Your head is cut off. You're set on fire. Burning oil is burned down your throat.
And I said to the psychiatrist, but this cold be a very interesting informational session, right? Where he's educating everybody about the Koran. He said but what disturbed everybody was that Hasan seemed to believe these things. And actually, a Muslim in the audience, a psychiatrist, raised his hand and said, excuse me. But I'm a Muslim and I do not believe these things in the Koran, and then I don't believe what you say the Koran says. And then Hasan didn't say, well, I'm just giving you one point of view. He basically just stared the guy down.
INSKEEP: So we have a picture of a man, then, who, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was disliked by his colleagues. Or maybe disliked is not the word. Disturbed some of his colleagues is perhaps a better way to put it.
ZWERDLING: No, and disliked is also a relevant word.
INSKEEP: OK. And then�
ZWERDLING: Then he - the psychiatrist this morning said people generally considered him a blank bag. You, you know, can guess what they say.
INSKEEP: And then he is sent to Fort Hood, Texas, and he knows at the point that this shooting allegedly begins, that the shooting begins of which he is accused, that he's about to be deployed by Afghanistan. Now, Tom, you've been looking into some of the stresses of military personnel of being sent overseas.
GJELTEN: That's right, Steve. You know, you referred to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There's - almost seems to be a phenomenon that you could maybe call a pre-traumatic stress disorder. There have been a lot suicides in the Army, many more as a result of these wars than in previous years. Interestingly enough, as many soldiers have killed themselves before they were due to be deployed as after. Thirty-five percent of the suicides are pre-deployment, 35 percent are post-deployment. So there seems to be an issue here of expectation of what you are getting into. And the fact that Major Hasan would've known better than others, even, about how traumatic combat experience would be, you know, raises the question of, you know, was he an example of these soldiers who are literally freaked out by what they are likely to face when they are deployed?
INSKEEP: And it's hard to miss the location of this shooting: a processing center for people being sent overseas. Daniel Zwerdling.
ZWERDLING: I want to add something else about Hasan at Walter Reed. The psychiatrist I talked to today said that he was the kind of guy who the staff actually stood around in the hallway, saying: Do you think he's a terrorist, or is he just weird? And now, apparently, Walter Reed is in a lockdown mode where they've been instructed - all the staff has been instructed: Do not talk to anybody about this investigation, except military people. Do not talk to the FBI, because they're afraid, potentially, what if people decide investigating this that people missed potential warning signs about the guy? You know, this is speculation still, but�
INSKEEP: How can they not talk to the FBI?
ZWERDLING: Well, our colleague Dina Temple-Raston has heard that from the FBI, and this military officer is telling me the same thing from Walter Reed.
INSKEEP: OK. Gentlemen, thanks very much. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling and Tom Gjelten. Thanks to you both.
GJELTEN: Thank you, Steve.
ZWERDLING: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And we do want to mention: This is a moment in our coverage which can be distressing for some listeners because we hear so much about the suspect and so little about the victims. That is a factor of what we know now. The military is saying very little about the victims so far, expect that there are 13 dead, 12 military, one civilian. But it is very early, and we expect to learn more and bring you more in the coming hours and days.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.