An Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire yesterday on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, killing at least 12 people and wounding 31 in what is believed to be the deadliest mass shooting on a U.S. military base in history.
The gunman, identified by authorities as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who once practiced at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, was shot by a civilian police officer and hospitalized in stable condition. His motive remains unclear, although various sources reported that he is opposed to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and upset about an imminent deployment.
The attack erupted shortly after lunchtime on the sprawling complex, which is the home base for more than 50,000 soldiers and has absorbed more fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other base. The assault targeted a ceremony inside an auditorium of the soldier readiness facility, which provides medical and dental care to troops before they mobilize for overseas duty. Officials said he opened fire on waiting areas as soldiers from across the base waited for appointments.
Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander, said Maj. Hasan opened fire with two handguns, killing 12 people -- including a civilian police officer -- before another officer shot him. Maj. Hasan originally had been reported dead.
Warning sirens typically used when tornadoes sweep across the plains alerted base residents and visitors to stay indoors, said Caitlin Johnson, an Army wife who was off the base when the shootings occurred. She termed the situation "horrible." The base remained locked down for about five hours.
"My husband's in Iraq," Ms. Johnson said. "I'm glad he's not on Fort Hood right now."
The event Maj. Hasan targeted, themed "Educating America's Patriots," was intended to recognize soldiers and relatives who had been unable to participate in college commencements because they were deployed, and representatives of eight colleges were expected to attend.
Two other suspects were arrested nearby, but were later released without being charged. Gen. Cone says he believes that only one shooter was involved.
Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived at Fort Hood last evening and worked alongside Army investigators who were reconstructing the crime scene, interviewing witnesses and seeking a motive.
Military authorities said ambulances carried the wounded to hospitals, as Fort Hood residents struggled to understand a violent attack on friendly soil.
"It's a terrible tragedy. It's stunning," Gen. Cone told reporters gathered outside the vast facility northeast of Austin. "Soldiers and family members and many of the great civilians who work here are absolutely devastated."
A co-worker identified as Col. Terry Lee told Fox News that Maj. Hasan opposed the U.S. role in Iraq and Afghanistan and told others that "we should not be in the war in the first place." He said Maj. Hasan acknowledged that soldiers have a duty to follow the commander-in-chief's orders, but was hoping that President Barack Obama would order a pullout from the conflicts.
"When things weren't going that way," Col. Lee said, "he became more agitated, more frustrated with the conflicts over there."
Mr. Obama yesterday promised to "get answers to every single question about this horrible incident." He offered his prayers to the wounded and the families of those killed, calling them "men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk -- and at times give -- their lives to protect the rest of us.
"It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas," the president said. "It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil."
An Army journalist based in Iraq posted the transcript of an exchange with his wife, who is living at Fort Hood. He tried to reach her by phone and turned to e-mail when she did not answer. She said there had been shootings, a lock-down of Fort Hood's schools and an order to secure all doors and windows. "This is ridiculous," Naveed Ali Shah, the soldier, told his wife. "I'm in the war zone, not you!"
Thousands of soldiers have passed through the gates of Fort Hood on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 500 did not come home. Post-combat stress has been an acknowledged problem on the base, and last year alone, nine Fort Hood soldiers committed suicide.
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, the former base commander, won praise for trying to reduce stress. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Army Times that "there's something going on at Hood that I think is extraordinary, that we need to emulate until we find something better."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations moved quickly to call the attack "cowardly." The organization, an advocacy group for American Muslims, said it condemned the shooting "in the strongest terms possible."
"No political or religious ideology could ever excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence," CAIR said in a statement. "The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation."
The Fort Hood shooting follows a June incident outside a Little Rock military recruiting center, in which one soldier was killed and another wounded. Authorities said Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who converted to Islam and changed his name as an adult, acted alone in the incident. He has pleaded not guilty. Mr. Muhammad had traveled to Yemen before the shooting, where he emerged on the radar of a Joint Terrorism Task Force. Local police said he was motivated in part by political and religious fervor.
The Fort Hood shooting came 18 years after a massacre in a restaurant in nearby Killeen, where George Hennard used a pair of 9mm pistols to kill 22 people and wound 17 more before using his last bullet on himself. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in the country -- eclipsed in 2007, when 32 people were shot and killed at Virginia Tech.