MELISSA BLOCK, host:
At Fort Hood, a picture is emerging of Nidal Hasan as an isolated, lonely man. He may have been planning his alleged attack from the moment he arrived at the post in July. Experts who study mass killers say, in hindsight, theyre not surprised of what were learning.
But as NPRs Jeff Brady reports from Collin, Texas, Hasans neighbor say theyre shocked.
JEFF BRADY: When Nidal Hasan moved to Fort Hood this summer, he rented a cheap apartment in a somewhat rundown complex where its unlikely hed run into other Army officers. Patricia Villa moved next door with her husband a few months later. Just two days before the shooting, Villa says Hasan gave her most of his possessions, including some vegetables, a microwave, furniture, even his alarm clock. Hasan told her he was about to be deployed.
Ms. PATRICIA VILLA: He goes, use them. And Im just going to be six months over there. He told me, right? And I told him, arent you afraid? He goes, no Im ready for it.
BRADY: Even now, Villa is reluctant to judge Hasan harshly.
Ms. VILLA: He was nice with me, right? And even though he killed all those people, you know, I cant judge what he did, you know, because anyhow - well, I dont know what was going on in his head.
BRADY: Well, within Hasans head is something a lot of people are thinking about. At the moment, hes in a San Antonio hospital, alert and talking, but not to investigators. His attorney has advised him to say nothing and is contending it may be difficult for his client to get a fair trial in Central Texas.
But with the few details that are emerging about Nidal Hasan, its possible to start painting a picture of him. Dr. Michael Welner is a forensic psychiatrist who testifies as an expert in mass shooting trials. Hes interviewed four mass shooters over the years.
Dr. MICHAEL WELNER (Forensic Psychiatrist): The person who carries out a mass shooting wants to create a spectacle and seeks immortality.
BRADY: Welner says its clear this attack was planned well in advance. Consider, for example, that Hasan reportedly bought the gun used in the attack shortly after moving to Fort Hood. And Welner says its important that the gunman chose the processing center for soldiers who were about to be deployed. That could have been designed to send a message. And we know that Hasan had concerns about Muslim soldiers being sent overseas to fight other Muslims, and that he was about to face deployment himself. Welner also points to Hasans difficulty in finding a wife. At 39 years old, hes single, short and a little bit chubby.
Dr. WELNER: It is common to mass shooters who have a sexual-romantic incompetence to redirect their masculinity through spectacular acts of destruction.
BRADY: Back at Hasans apartment complex, neighbors like Valerie Barber say he was almost always alone.
Ms. VALERIE BARBER: I never saw him out here with, like, some of the people out here thats adopted my dogs and stuff like that. He just did his own thing.
BRADY: It appears Hasan may not have had the social support necessary to handle the stresses in his life, including the stress of counseling traumatized soldiers. Nancy Molitor is the public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association. She says Hasan seems to fit much of the criteria for someone at risk.
Ms. NANCY MOLITOR (Public Education Coordinator, American Psychological Association): A middle-aged male who is socially isolated, who has no peers to consult with or few peers to talk about the trauma that he is exposed to. Hes also generally in the midst of some sort of personal crisis.
BRADY: Molitor says its important to remember that its unlikely a single factor led to the gunman opening fire at Fort Hood. She says its most likely a complicated mix of things. And as much as researchers have tried, there are no reliable ways to predict when someone else might become violent.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Collin, Texas.