Questions Remain As Fort Hood Recovers

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The military town of Killeen, Texas, is still in mourning days after Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 30 others. Soldiers and civilians alike are still searching for answers about the suspected killer and his possible motives. NPR's John Burnett reports on the aftermath of last week's attack at Fort Hood in Texas.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The military town of Killeen, Texas is still in mourning days after Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding 30 others. Hasan was shot and seriously wounded by military police at the scene. His medical condition has improved.

Fort Hood spokesman Colonel John Rossi spoke to reporters last night.

Colonel JOHN ROSSI (Spokesman, Fort Hood): The suspect, Major Hasan, remains hospitalized at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where we understand he remains in ICU and is no longer on a ventilator.

HANSEN: Members of the Fort Hood community have different perspectives on the tragedy, and many are waiting to find out what allegedly motivated his rampage.

NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT: Veterans Memorial Boulevard leading to Fort Hood, Texas is a strip of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, loan sharks, liquor stores, honkytonks, used car lots and other businesses keen on relieving young soldiers of their paychecks.

JDM Power Sports, for one, installs custom car audio and wheel rims. Avery Dansby(ph) stands next to his candy apple red Chrysler 300. He's a stout former sergeant who recently left the Army after eight years in uniform. On this warm afternoon, Dansby, like nearly everybody else in this military town, is trying to figure out what made Major Nidal Hasan do it.

Mr. AVERY DANSBY (Former Sergeant, U.S. Army): If he felt a certain way about anything he was going through, I feel he should've just sat in a quiet room by himself and took his own life, you know what I mean?

BURNETT: In military slang, if it moves, salute it. It's incomprehensible to Dansby that anyone with rank, such as a major, would seek to do harm to his soldiers.

Mr. DANSBY: The time I spent in the military being around a lot of officers, it's kind of like, it makes you kind of scared wondering, like, that could've been me type situation, being that that's who you look up to. You look up to your officers to lead you.

BURNETT: When gunshots erupted around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, the huge Army post went on lockdown. More than 70,000 people had to shelter in place, including this 23-year-old soldier who asked to remain nameless because the military has asked them not to talk to reporters.

Unidentified Man #1: We were just in a battalion motor pool and we heard the siren, the post speaker system go off, said seek shelter, et cetera, et cetera. We didn't know what it was. Some people thought it was a terrorist attack because the speaker system had said, like, shut doors and windows, turn off ventilation systems. But then, you know, later little rumors started circulating around - somebody got shot.

BURNETT: The shots came from the Soldier Readiness center. The troops go there before they ship out to get vaccinated, write a will, buy life insurance and get their teeth checked among other things - the mundane precursors of deployment. This soldier's unit, the 36th Engineering Brigade, was hit hard -four members were killed.

Unidentified Man #2: People, I think are kind of mentally preparing themselves for dealing with that kind of thing when we get downrange. But to have it just, you know, be put on our front doorstep, you know, just right here in garrison, everybody just assumes, you know, you're safe.

BURNETT: No one knows yet what made the 39-year-old Virginia-born Army psychiatrist take two pistols: a 5.7 semiautomatic and a .357 revolver into the readiness center and start shooting. He was finally cut down by two civilian post police officers. But some people are speculating.

Michael Kern(ph) is a private first class whose tour in Iraq gave him PTSD and turned him against the war. Though still on active duty, Kern is now a well-known peace activist around town. When not on the post, he can usually be found here at an anti-war coffee house called Under the Hood. Kern has read that Hasan counseled returning veterans.

Mr. MICHAEL KERN (Private First Class, U.S. Army): This guy was a therapist and, you know, a lot of people were saying, well, he couldn't have PTSD. He was never deployed. That is totally false. You can get PTSD from - compassion PTSD is what it's called - from listening to soldiers and, you know, hearing all their stories.

BURNETT: Whether Major Hasan turned on his own because of religion, politics, PTSD or something else, what matters to Timothy Hancock is that the military will ultimately find out. Hancock is the 75-year-old mayor of Killeen and himself a 30-year veteran of the Army.

Mayor TIMOTHY HANCOCK (Killeen, Texas, Army Veteran): I am pleased that he is alive, and I hope that he continues to live because I think with him living and with our professionals, we might be able to find out why someone would do something like this.

BURNETT: Mayor Hancock stands on the steps of city hall in a tan cowboy hat with the erect bearing of one who was a command sergeant major, the Army's highest noncommissioned officer. More than 520 soldiers deployed from Fort Hood have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hancock says whatever set Major Hasan off, it has happened in a city where the deaths of its young warriors is somewhat routine.

Mr. HANCOCK: We are accustomed to tragedy, whether it's one soldier that was stationed at Fort Hood, lived in Killeen, was killed during the war, or if it's three or five or ever how many, this community, we band together and support each other.

BURNETT: As of today, most of those wounded in the shootings are still in the hospital, many in intensive care. Dr. Roy Smythe, chief of surgery at Scott and White Hospital in nearby Temple, said his patients have gunshot wounds to the head, the neck, the abdomen and their extremities, and some have multiple injuries.

Dr. ROY SMYTHE (Chief of Surgery, Scott and White Hospital): Some of these patients will be physically impaired for the rest of their life and there's certainly no doubt that many of them will be psychologically impaired for the rest of their lives. There's no doubt about that.

BURNETT: Sergeant Kimberly Munley, the civilian police officer who first shot back at Hasan, is being hailed as a hero. She's reported to be in good condition with gunshot wounds to her wrist and legs.

John Burnett, NPR News, Killeen, Texas.

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