Hasan's Story Won't Be Easy To Sort Out

Maj. Nidal Hasan i i

hide captionMaj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was set to be shipped overseas. The Army says he opened fire at the Fort Hood Army post Thursday, killing 12 people.

AP/ Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Maj. Nidal Hasan

Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was set to be shipped overseas. The Army says he opened fire at the Fort Hood Army post Thursday, killing 12 people.

AP/ Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Often when there is a mass shooting, people who knew the gunman find themselves wondering what warning signs they might have missed. So it is in the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan, a 12-year veteran in the U.S. Army, a native-born American, a trained and practicing psychiatrist — and the man authorities say opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.

The vital facts of Hasan's life do not suggest a man determined to kill dozens of his fellows as they sat unarmed in a crowded waiting room. He was born in Arlington, Va. His parents were immigrants, but so are millions of other Americans. His heritage was Palestinian, but he didn't even speak Arabic. He went to Virginia Tech and in 1997 joined the Army. It was through the Army that he got his medical training. He was due to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Those who look for a ready explanation for the murderous rampage at Fort Hood can choose between two broad narratives: Maybe it had to do with the travails of an Army psychiatrist, dealing with soldiers who had been traumatized, even disfigured, by their war experience; or maybe it had to do with being Muslim.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan


Age: 39

Born: Sept. 8, 1970, Arlington, Va.

Education: Bachelor's degree with honors in biochemistry, Virginia Tech, 1997; general medicine degree, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 2001

Military background: Hasan had served in the Army since June 1997. He trained to be a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he served from June 2003 until last July.

Military awards: National Defense Service Medal (2 awards), Global War on Terror Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon

Sources: U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs; NPR reports

Those who suspect he was secretly a radical Muslim can focus on what Lt. Gen. Bob Cone, Fort Hood's commanding officer, said Friday on the CBS Early Show, responding to a question from Harry Smith.

"There are unconfirmed reports that he was saying Allahu Akbar," Cone said.

"Allahu Akbar," which means "God is great" in Arabic, is a phrase many terrorists have said in the moments before they strike.

Surveillance video taken at a convenience store that Hasan visited the morning of the shooting show him dressed in white: white skull cap, white leggings, a white tunic. Had he just been to morning prayers? Was he preparing for a martyrdom operation?

But this Muslim terrorist narrative won't convince everyone.

Perhaps soldiers in the mayhem of the moment only imagined Hasan said "Allahu Akbar." FBI investigators aren't sure Hasan really did say those words before he started shooting.

The portrait of Hasan as a Muslim radical doesn't entirely make sense to those who knew him well. Imam Faisal Khan, whose D.C.-area mosque Hasan attended over a 10-year period, never got the idea he was ashamed of his Army service.

"He would come in his uniforms many times," Khan said. "He would come in his uniform and pray. And then I knew he was in the Army. He liked his job. That's what he was trained for, you know, to serve in the military."

There is the other narrative. That as a combat-stress psychiatrist, Hasan himself suffered as a result of dealing with soldiers who had been through hellish war experiences. Hasan's cousin, Nader Hasan, told Fox News on Thursday that Nidal never mentioned that he was about to be deployed.

"We've known for the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare," Nader Hasan said. "He deals with stories; he'd tell us how he would hear things, horrific things."

He wouldn't just hear things. Many of the soldiers Hasan counseled were maimed; he told one family member that one soldier had been burned so badly that his face had almost melted away. Now Hasan himself had to go to war.

Psychologists say there is such a thing as "vicarious traumatization," in which someone can be affected just by hearing what someone else has gone through.

Perhaps it was the combination of being a Muslim and an Army counselor that set Hasan off. His cousin Nader Hasan said Maj. Hasan had his own stresses to deal with, as a Muslim army officer.

"It was the harassment that, I think, was what got to him ... him being referenced for his Middle Eastern ethnicity, even though he was born and raised here," Nader Hasan said.

Investigators will be exploring these theories, and others. Some former colleagues remember Hasan as difficult to deal with, even unprofessional and unhappy. At 39, he had never married. His former imam, Faisal Khan, says Hasan even signed up for a Muslim matchmaking service.

"His first choice was Arab. His second choice was India, Pakistan, people from the subcontinent," Khan said. "Third choice was Caucasian European Muslims and his last choice was Spanish."

The imam said Hasan didn't like the women who were listed.

It could be Hasan was just struggling with demons of his own making.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: