When Army Spc. Ivan Lopez went on the shooting rampage Wednesday at Ft. Hood, Texas, killing three soldiers and injuring 16 others, he had just learned that superiors in Washington had rejected his request to take a temporary leave to deal with family matters related to his mother's death, a federal law enforcement official said.
The incident marked the second time Lopez had clashed with military supervisors over the issue of leave — he had been granted less than two days when his mother died in November — and the latest such denial left him furious, the official said.
When Lopez's latest request for leave was turned down and he attempted to renew it, he was told to wait another day or more before filing another request, said the official, speaking anonymously because the investigation is ongoing.
"He had put in for something regarding his mother's death and some other matters, and it was denied," the official said. "Or it wasn't going to happen as quickly as he wanted it to.
"When they told him, he blew his top," the official said.
Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook, a 32-year-old human resources worker, was sitting at his desk Wednesday when the shots rang out. His father, Theodis Westbrook, told The Times that Westbrook's supervisor had feuded with Lopez earlier over the leave request form. Told to return the next day, Lopez left — but then came back and pulled out a pistol.
Westbrook was shot twice in the chest and twice in an arm.
"I was in total shock and disbelief," Theodis Westbrook said. "He was in Afghanistan for nine months last year. I thought, he's not in a war zone now and he's not involved in any deadly war games. How did he get shot? He works in an office."
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said Friday that the "direct precipitating factor" in the bloodshed was an "escalating argument within his unit area," not Lopez's mental health problems, as Milley had suggested earlier. He did not say what the argument was about, but said that some of those Lopez clashed with were shot.
Lopez was being treated for anxiety and depression and was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder, officials have said.
Chris Grey, spokesman for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, said Lopez had been involved in a "verbal altercation" just before he opened fire with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol he had bought in March.
Lopez began shooting at the intersection of 72nd Street and Tank Destroyer Boulevard on the Army base, Grey said. He entered a building firing indiscriminately, then drove to another, shooting along the way.
Lopez was confronted by a military police officer in a parking lot. He pulled out his gun and she fired one shot at him, Grey said. "We do not believe the shooter was struck," he said. Lopez then fatally shot himself in the head.
Grey said investigators were still looking for a motive, but they may never have one. They were scouring three crime scenes in the buildings and three outdoors, spread over an area the size of two city blocks.
The identities of the three soldiers killed were released Friday: Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, 39; Staff Sgt. Carlos Alberto Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38; and Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37.
Lopez left Ft. Bliss in El Paso in late November because a painful foot inflammation, plantar fasciitis, prevented him from performing his duties as an infantryman, said Lt. Col. Lee Peters, a spokesman at the base.
He spent December and January at Ft. Leonard Wood in southern Missouri, training to become a truck driver. He moved to Ft. Hood in February.
One of Lopez's neighbors, Mahogany Jones, 21, said Friday he had complained to her two weeks ago that the Army was not taking care of soldiers. He said being a soldier was not worth the benefits and that he was getting out in a year or so. He told her he left Ft. Bliss because "it was too stressful." Lopez said he had gone to Iraq, where he had seen three people die.
"He said he had trouble sleeping" after that, Jones said.
Lopez's mother died in November, and the soldier was upset that Army officials granted him less than two days to go home to Puerto Rico for the funeral. Carmen Lopez's death from a heart attack came just a month after his grandfather's passing.
Months later, the 34-year-old musician, father and decorated soldier posted a chilling message on his Facebook page; it said he had been robbed, that the devil had taken him and that he was "full of hatred."
Lopez's father said Friday he was dismayed and surprised by his son's actions. He described him as a calm, hardworking family man.
"My son could not be in his right mind; he wasn't like this," the elder Ivan Lopez said in a statement. "I ask for prayers for all of the affected families, especially when there is an investigation underway."
Lopez said that his son had worked as a police officer in Puerto Rico and that he was undergoing medical treatment. The family deaths and changes associated with the move to Ft. Hood probably affected his state of mind, Lopez said.
On Thursday, portraits of the slain soldiers' lives began to emerge from family and friends.
Ferguson was shot as he held a door shut to protect a room full of military personnel, his fiance, Kristen Haley, said in an interview with WTSP-10 in Tampa Bay, Fla. He was promoted to sergeant first class in 2004.
"If he was not being the one against that door, holding it," Haley said, "that shooter would've been able to get through and shoot everyone else.
"I know that he did have pleasure of serving," Haley said. "This was his life. He was proud to be part of a great service."
Owens died after being shot at close range, said Darlene "Dee" Humphrey, the stepmother of Owens' wife.
Owens' mother told WGN News that she tried to call her son immediately after the shooting. "I left a message on his phone: 'Son, call me, son, so I know if you're OK,'" she said.
When she didn't get a call back, she said, she thought, "Oh God, please don't let it be."
Lazaney-Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, was part of a medical brigade at Ft. Hood.
Four of the injured remained at Scott & White Memorial Hospital, the hospital said. One patient is in good condition and was expected to be discharged Friday. Five people, including Westbrook, had been discharged as of Friday morning.
Serrano reported from Washington, Hennessy-Fiske from Killeen and Mozingo from Los Angeles. Adolfo Flores in Los Angeles and Adam Sege of the Chicago Tribune also contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times