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Ft. Hood witness: Shooting victim pleaded, 'My baby, my baby!'

ShootingsJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeNewspaper and MagazineU.S. ArmyU.S. MilitaryNidal Malik Hasan

FT. HOOD, Texas — Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra was heading to lunch in her office at this central Texas Army base back on Nov. 5, 2009, when she heard the first shots of what would become the deadliest shooting on a U.S. military installation.

Guerra and other witnesses detailed the carnage they saw unfold that day during testimony Thursday at the court-martial of the shooter, Maj. Nidal Mailk Hasan.

Hasan, 42, is representing himself with the aid of military legal advisers and faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted by a jury of 13 fellow officers, the Army psychiatrist could be sentenced to death.

Guerra, of Chino Hills, took the stand shortly after noon wearing a dress uniform and explained that, at the time of the shooting, she was responsible for the soldier readiness processing center providing treatment for those about to deploy.

The day of the shooting, as she headed to her office for lunch, Guerra saw Hasan waiting. She didn’t know the Army psychiatrist, but recognized him as an officer, and made a mental note to check in with him after eating.

By the time she reached her office, she heard shots.

Guerra opened the office door, incensed, and demanded to know what was "going on in my building."

She heard someone yell, “Shooter, shooter!”

That’s when she saw a figure in fatigues with a handgun.

“He was firing into the crowd of soldiers,” Guerra testified, “very efficiently dropping his magazine and coming up with another magazine—I mean, it was seconds. Down came the magazine, up came another one… he was firing at anyone who was moving and anyone who was trying to get out of the building.”

Guerra heard someone call out, “When he reloads, get him!” and then, “He’s reloading, get him!”

Then she saw three men charge the shooter, one with a chair, but the shooter quickly reloaded and began firing, taking two of them down as the third fled.

It was about then that she recognized the shooter—and that he was headed in her direction.

Two staff were hiding in her office, crouching under desks.

“Shhh, he’s coming—don’t move!” Guerra said, placing a finger over her mouth and closing the door, which opened inward, sitting with her back to the door as she braced her legs against desks.

“I told them to stay down and don’t get up—he’s coming,” she testified.

She listened closely to the sounds of shooting outside the door, trying to figure out where the attacker was. She could hear screams, people yelling “Run, run!” “Move, move—he’s coming!” and then “Please don’t!” and “My baby, my baby!”

“And then I hear shots,” Guerra said. Referring to the voice shouting about a baby, the military prosecutor asked,  “Do you hear that voice again Sgt. Guerra?”

“No, I do not,” Guerra said.

Among those killed in the attack was Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, of Chicago, who was pregnant.

Hasan objected, one of his first objections during the trial which started this week.

“Would you remind 1st Sgt. Guerra that she’s under oath,” he said to the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, who did so.

It was not clear why Hasan objected—he did not object again during Guerra’s testimony and declined to cross-examine her. The American-born Muslim had admitted to the shooting during his opening statements and had attempted to defend himself by arguing he targeted fellow soldiers preparing to deploy to protect Taliban allies overseas.

After Hasan objected, Guerra remained focused on the prosecutor.

“Based on the accused’s objection,” the prosecutor said, “is there anything you want to change about your testimony?”

“No, I do not, sir,” she said, and went on the describe the scene in her building when she emerged from her office that day.

The room was silent and dark with smoke so thick she said she could taste it.

“I see bodies, I see bodies everywhere, and I see blood,” Guerra said, her voice breaking, “There is no movement, no sound.”

She yelled into the darkness: “Is everybody OK?”

“It was as if a switch turned on because I started hearing, ‘Help me, I’ve been bleeding, I’ve been shot, help me!'”

Guerra shouted that she would get help, ran out of the building, then returned to help her staff, yelling, “If you can walk, if you can run, get out!”

Guerra then described going from victim to victim. Among them was Sgt. Amy Krueger, 29, of Keil, Wis., who she only knew by her name tag. Krueger was on her back making a guttural sound, her pupils pinpoints. Guerra turned her over to find the spot where she had been shot in the back.

“When I turned her back over, she was not making any more sounds, so I moved on,” Guerra said.

She moved on to a slender young soldier still sitting in a chair where he had been waiting for treatment: Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, 19, of West Jordan, Utah.

“He didn’t have a chance to get up out of his seat,” she said. “His eyes were open and he was white as a ghost.”

She moved on to another soldier and then another, but some of her staff found it harder to give up on those clearly already dead. Other staffers, military and civilian, testified Thursday that they struggled to treat soldiers with multiple wounds, including bloody head wounds that left brain matter on their hands.

“He’s dead, you need to move on!” Guerra yelled when she saw staff repeatedly trying to treat Nemelka, and when they refused, she used a black marker to write “D” on his forehead and the other bodies.

At one point, Guerra peered  out of the front door and saw Hasan walking up and down in front of the building. She kept watching until he moved beyond her sight.

Later, when she emerged from the building, Guerra said she saw Hasan one last time: laying on the ground, his shirt off, a chest wound exposed where he had been shot by a police officer.

Before stepping down, Guerra asked the judge if she could say something.

Osborn said she could only answer questions.

About an hour after she took the stand, Guerra stepped down.

[For the record: 12:29 p.m. Aug. 10: An earlier version of this post said that Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra considered Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan a fellow officer. Guerra is a noncommissioned officer.]

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ShootingsJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeNewspaper and MagazineU.S. ArmyU.S. MilitaryNidal Malik Hasan
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