In Wake Of Fort Hood Shooting, Attention Turns To Base Security

Apr 4, 2014
Originally published on April 4, 2014 5:18 pm

While it appears the 2009 attack at Fort Hood was different in many ways from what occurred Wednesday, the latest attack is focusing attention again on security measures there. Meanwhile, we are learning more about the alleged shooter, Specialist Ivan Lopez.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block, hosting this week from member station KERA in Dallas.

Today, the Defense Department released the names of the three soldiers killed in this week's shooting at Fort Hood. They are Sergeant Timothy Owens, 37 years old, from Effingham, Illinois; Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, 39, from Mulberry, Florida; and Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney from Aquadilla, Puerto Rico. He was 38. All three served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Owens and Lazaney received Combat Action Badges, meaning they were engaged in active combat.

SIEGEL: At Fort Hood, the investigation into Wednesday's attack continues with a focus on the gunman's mental health and an argument that took place just before the shooting. Today, Lieutenant General Mark Milley sought to clarify the military's initial assessments.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK MILLEY: His underlying medical conditions are not a direct precipitating factor. We believe that the immediate precipitating factor was more likely an escalating argument in his unit area.

SIEGEL: Whatever led to the attack, it is reminiscent of the Fort Hood mass shooting in 2009. That incident led to some changes in base security and emergency procedures. And now, those changes are being reexamined. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports from Killeen, Texas.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: After the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, the military released an extensive lessons learned report with a long list of recommendations. And many focused on counterterrorism, others on how to decrease police response times to an active shooter on a base. But after this week's shooting, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says there's still more to be done.

CHUCK HAGEL: Obviously, we have a gap. Anytime we lose an individual, something's gone wrong.

SERGEANT HOWARD RAY: Well, I think there were lessons that definitely weren't learned from 2009 until now.

SIEGLER: Retired Sergeant Howard Ray received the Army Medal of Commendation for his aide in the rescue operations in November of 2009 when Major Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood. More than four years on, this week, watching from the outside, Ray was shocked and saddened, but also frustrated.

RAY: We had better response times, but we still had three dead and 16 wounded. So there's a whole part of the equation that still wasn't addressed. How do we keep our men and women safe?

SIEGLER: Ray says base and unit commanders at installations like Fort Hood need more authority and flexibility when it comes to security. This was one of the recommendations in the 2009 reports. But Ray says this week's shooting demonstrates why soldiers in certain units should be armed while at work on base. After all, they're trained military personnel, he says.

Like most soldiers at Fort Hood, this week's alleged shooter, Specialist Ivan Lopez, did not have permission to bring his handgun on base. And the Army has made mental health the focus of their public statements.

John Galligan agrees the focus needs to be on troubled soldiers. Galligan is a former military judge at Fort Hood who later served as defense counsel to Major Nidal Hasan.

JOHN GALLIGAN: I think it's important that all commanders at all levels sit down and honestly acknowledge the fact that we're gonna see this again, maybe not at Fort Hood but at some other installation.

SIEGLER: Galligan says there were a few changes made to help identify and treat troubled soldiers after 2009. But those changes were isolated and didn't go far enough.

GALLIGAN: And that stems from the sheer number of, maybe, cases. The fact that a lot of the commanders that are in there may be new or just recently assigned, and it's kind of like, oh, jeez I got another problem, you know, that has its origins in the medical, you know, community or from an earlier deployment or earlier assignment and maybe they just feel overwhelmed.

SIEGLER: Family members and friends of Specialist Lopez are expressing shock that the 34-year-old father could have opened fire on his fellow soldiers. Today, his father issued a brief statement, asking for prayers for the three people killed and 16 wounded in the attack. Ivan Lopez, Sr. described his son as a peaceful man who had struggled with the recent deaths of his mother and grandfather.

The mayor of Lopez's hometown in Puerto Rico, Edgardo Arlequin Velez, told NPR that he was surprised to hear of the shooting, and that something very big must have happened to Lopez.

EDGARDO ARLEQUIN VELEZ: (Through translator) Ivan was quiet, respectful and obedient. What happened? I came to the conclusion that something happened in his life that affected him. We now know he was getting psychological treatment.

SIEGLER: Military officials have said Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety and had been prescribed medication. A memorial service for the victims is being planned for next week. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Killeen, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.