Senior U.S. Army leaders told members of Congress Thursday that they are not ruling out terrorism as the motive behind a Fort Hood, Texas soldier opening fire on his fellow service members, killing three and wounding another 16.
"The background checks we have done thus far show no involvement with extremist organizations of any kind, but ... we are not making any assumptions by that," Army Secretary John McHugh told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee a day after the April 2 mass shooting.
"We are going to keep an open mind and open investigation, and we will go where the facts lead us and possible extremist activity is still being looked at very carefully," McHugh said.
This was the second mass shooting at Hood in four years. The first involved Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, who shot and killed 13 fellow soldiers and wounded 32 others. Senior leaders were reluctant to call Hassan's shooting a terrorist attack at first.
The shooter in Wednesday's attack, Spec. Ivan Lopez, was being treated for sleep disturbances, personality disorder, and anxiety, McHugh told Congress. Lopez had taken a variety of medications for sleep problems, the Army Secretary said.
Lopez had seen a psychiatrist who did not diagnose him with post traumatic stress. Lopez had also not reported a brain injury or concussions. McHugh did not specify Lopez's personality disorder.
He deployed to Iraq for four months as a motor transport operator where he did not take part in combat, McHugh said. Lopez also deployed to the Sinai with the National Guard for a year.
Lopez killed himself following a dramatic confrontation in a base parking lot with a female military police officer, said Army Lt. Gen. Mark Miley, the base commander.
At a distance of about 20 feet, the soldier and the military policeman faced each other, Miley said. The suspect took a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol out of his jacket and the MP also raised her weapon. The suspect then pointed his weapon at his head and fired.
Mchugh said the investigation so far indicates that Lopez had a clean record in terms of behavior.
At the onset of the incident, sirens wailed across the base and loudspeakers warned that an "active shooter" was on the loose and directed those on the base to "shelter in place." Officers from the Bell County sheriff's office and other law enforcement agencies rushed to block exits to the base.
"I believe that some of the procedures that have been put in place following the incident four and a half years ago did help us yesterday," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said. "The alert procedures that were in place, the response, the training that has gone into the response forces that responded I think contributed to making this something that could have been much, much worse."
Lopez served nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before coming on active duty, Odierno told lawmakers. He did a one-year deployment to the Sinai Desert with the National Guard, and then served a four-month deployment in Iraq from August to December 2011.
Lopez claimed to have suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, but an initial search of records showed no reports of TBI, Army officials maintain. Records also show he was not wounded in action.
Many lawmakers expressed sympathy for the victims and their families. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. told McHugh and Odierno that tragedies like this one will be "one of the great leadership dilemmas you are both going to face."
"We have to obviously get to the bottom of this and learn from it, but this is a consequence of 10 years of uninterrupted warfare for the Army," Reed said. "Many things you do and think about are going to have to be in the context of how do we deal with soldiers that have some obvious issues and some not so obvious."
The shooting was confined to the areas of the 1st Medical Brigade and the Transportation Command's motor pool. The suspect began shooting, got into a vehicle and drove a short distance, then got out and began shooting again before confronting the MP in the parking lot, Army officials maintain.
Fort Hood officials said that shots were fired beginning at about 4:30 p.m. local time on the sprawling 214,000-acre base.
The shootings Wednesday at Fort Hood came as the military was conducting a major review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on access to military bases.
The review was prompted by the shootings last Sept. 16, 2013, at the Naval Sea Systems Command building at the Washington Navy Yard in southeast Washington, D.C., that left 12 dead.
The sole gunman, Aaron Alexis, was employed by a defense contractor and managed to get a weapon past the entrance to the Navy Yard. Alexis was killed by responding officers.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com