KILLEEN, Texas — Officials investigating the Ft. Hood shooting that left four dead and 16 wounded Wednesday said they believed the gunman’s “unstable psychiatric and psychological condition” was the “fundamental underlying factor” behind the attack and were looking into whether an argument preceded the shooting, the base commander said Thursday.
Before he opened fire on his fellow soldiers, Army Spec. Ivan Lopez was undergoing treatment for depression and anxiety and was being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder, officials said. During one of his two deployments in Iraq he drove a truck, but never saw combat.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, base commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said that investigators were trying to learn if there was a “trigger event” that drove Lopez to kill. “It was mentioned yesterday that there might have been a verbal altercation with another soldier or soldiers,” he said. “We do not have that definitively but we do have a strong indication of that.”
The general said that it did not appear that Lopez targeted particular victims.
[Updated 4:49 p.m. PST, April 3: Five of the 16 soldiers injured were discharged Thursday from Scott & White Memorial Hospital, officials said. Three victims at the hospital remain in serious condition. Officials at Carl R. Darnall Medical Center declined to release any information on their patients.]
[Updated, 8:49 p.m. PST, April 3: Authorities searched Lopez's Killeen apartment, military officials confirmed, and interviewed his wife.]
Milley gave glimpses of terror and heroism as the shooting occurred: Two wounded soldiers managed to call 911 a few minutes after the attack began. He said a chaplain shielded several soldiers and broke windows to let them escape.
A female military police officer, whose name has not been released, arrived four minutes after the 911 call. The gunman approached her, stopping about 20 feet away, and pulled the gun from his jacket, Milley said. The officer opened fire, and Lopez shot himself in the head, he said. It was not clear if Lopez, who died, was also shot by the officer.
“She clearly performed her duty exceptionally well,” he said.
When asked by reporters if it were feasible to search people entering the base for guns, Milley said no. “As we know Ft. Hood is a big installation, we have 70,000 to 80,000 people that work here on a daily basis,” he said. “It would not be realistic to do a pat-down search on every single soldier and employee.”
He added that he had not heard of any movement to repeal the ban on soldiers carrying guns on U.S. bases.
A memorial service was planned for next week, he said.
Lopez bought his weapon on March 1, according to Milley, at the same store that supplied both Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for his deadly rampage in 2009 and an Army private for a failed plot to execute a similar massacre in 2011, according to two federal law enforcement sources.
Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 using a pistol from the Guns Galore store in Killeen. It was the deadliest military base shooting in U.S. history. Two years later an AWOL Army private from Kentucky, Naser Jason Abdo, entered the same store and bought gunpowder, shotgun shells and a handgun. In that instance the store notified authorities, who arrested Abdo at a nearby motel where he was plotting to attack a restaurant popular with Ft. Hood personnel.
An employee at Guns Galore said that the owner’s wife had talked to the FBI. An employee reached by phone declined to say whether store workers noticed anything of concern about Lopez, who legally purchased a semi-automatic .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol. “It’s an ongoing investigation. We have been told to redirect everybody to the FBI,” the employee said.
Military officials were scouring Lopez's background. He saw no combat during his 2011 service in Iraq and was not wounded, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday morning.
Lopez was being treated for depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances, McHugh said. He had been examined by a psychiatrist last month and was prescribed Ambien, among other drugs, and was undergoing evaluation for post traumatic stress disorder.
The Puerto Rican native had two deployments. One was a truck driver in Iraq from August to December 2011, McHugh said. He has served with the National Guard in Puerto Rico from 1999 to 2010, said Major Jamie Davis, deputy public affairs officer at the National Guard Bureau.
He initially came in as an infantryman and later joined the 248th Army Band.
In 2007 Lopez was deployed to a Multinational Force and Observers unit on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. It was a noncombat deployment and he probably provided security in the surrounding region, Davis said.
Lopez received nine medals from the Army: two commendation medals, four achievement medals and three good conduct medals.
Nothing in his records show that he was a danger to himself or others, Davis said.
“From what we have seen and heard from people who talked to him, all indications were that he was a good soldier.” Davis said.
The FBI, Texas authorities and Veteran’s Affairs officials were assisting in the investigation.
At least two victims were shot multiple times in the abdomen and extremities. The most seriously injured were taken to two local hospitals, including three to Carl R. Darnall Medical Center, where their conditions ranged from stable to critical, a hospital spokesman said.
Nine of the wounded were being treated at Baylor Scott & White Hospital in Temple and three remained in critical condition, doctors said Thursday morning. Two patients were in fair condition and four in good condition, the hospital said. They have injuries to the abdomen, neck and spine. At least two of them will require additional surgeries.
Four of the injured have been discharged, Milley said.
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. Army chief of staff, said the procedures put in place after the 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood kept this week's incident from being “much worse.”
Odierno described Lopez as “an experienced soldier … he spent nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before coming onto active duty.” Lopez had transferred to Ft. Hood in February along with his wife and young daughter.
Security was tight Thursday morning at the base, where one main parking lot was being patrolled by uniformed soldiers. A line of traffic flowed into the base's main gate, past an encampment of media assembled outside the visitor center. Soldiers and relatives could be seen entering the County Directorate of Emergency Services nearby.
The dead and wounded were all military personnel. A few of the injured had superficial wounds from shattered glass or cuts suffered while they scaled fences to flee the scene, Milley said.
Milley said the gunman, dressed in military fatigues, opened fire about 4 p.m. The initial shots came inside the 1st Medical Brigade Area, he said, then the gunman got into a vehicle and went to a second building where he continued shooting.
Within 15 minutes military police responded. Milley said the female officer confronted Lopez in a parking lot near the second building. He approached the officer but stopped about 20 feet from her and put his hands up. Then, Milley said, the gunman reached into his jacket and pulled out his weapon. As the officer opened fire, the man shot himself in the head.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Killeen, Flores from Los Angeles and Serrano from Washington, D.C.