Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Hancock heard sirens as he sat inside Fort Hood’s Howze Theater on Nov. 5, 2009, where he and his wife attended a graduation ceremony.
The jubilant occasion soon reminded him of war as the shooting began. Wounded soldiers ran outside the theater, just blocks from the Soldier Readiness Center.
“We knew where it was. We knew what was going on; some of the wounded had come down the hill,” said Hancock, former Killeen mayor. “We just didn’t know the total involvement. We didn’t know if it was one or two or how many shooters there were. We just knew there was some shooting going on.”
That day, 13 people died.
Last August, a jury convicted the shooter, former Maj. Nidal Hasan, of 13 counts of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to death and is in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Less than five years after Hasan’s attack on unarmed fellow soldiers, Fort Hood faces the aftermath of another deadly shooting.
While the two incidents may be very different, similarities exist, too. In both cases, receiving accurate information quickly was difficult.
“I don’t think they knew exactly who the shooter was for a while or if there was more than one,” Hancock said.
In both shootings, many initial reports stated more than one shooter was involved. Hasan was the lone shooter in the 2009 massacre and only one shooter was involved in the April 2 shooting, which is still under investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command in Quantico, Va.
Here’s a look at Wednesday’s events compared to the Nov. 5, 2009 shooting:
2014: Spc. Ivan A. Lopez, 34, of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, joined the U.S. Army in 2008 and was assigned to 49th Transportation Movement Control Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command. He moved to Fort Hood from Fort Bliss in February.
He deployed to Egypt for a year in 2007 as a member of Puerto Rico’s Army National Guard. He also deployed to Iraq between August and December 2011.
Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Hood and III Corps commander, said Lopez saw no combat during his last deployment.
2009: Maj. Nidal Hasan was an Army psychiatrist scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. It would have been his first deployment to a war zone.
Both Lopez and Hasan purchased their weapons from Guns Galore in Killeen.
Incident, motive and security
2014: Officials said a 911 call about shots fired near the 1st Medical Brigade Headquarters was made at 4:16 p.m. April 2.
Lopez fired about 35 rounds of ammunition for about eight minutes at multiple buildings, said Chris Grey, an Army Criminal Investigation Division spokesman. Military police arrived at the scene four minutes after the 911 call and a female officer engaged Lopez in a parking lot near the 49th Transportation Battalion Headquarters.
“There was a verbal exchange between the officer and the subject,” Grey said. “The military police officer drew her weapon and fired one round when the subject allegedly brandished his weapon. ... Lopez then allegedly placed his .45-caliber (Smith & Wesson) handgun to his head and took his own life.”
2009: Hasan, a Muslim, shouted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” and began firing more than 200 bullets from his laser-sighted FN 5-7 pistol about 1:15 p.m. at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center’s medical building.
He targeted uniformed soldiers during the estimated eight minutes he was shooting. Hasan’s rampage ended after Sgt. Mark Todd and Sgt. Kimberly Munley, both Fort Hood civilian police officers at the time, fired shots and wounded him.
As a result of the 2009 shooting, Fort Hood’s military police just this year began wearing new black outer tactical vests to help responders differentiate between victims and potential shooters.
2014: Before the incident, Lopez was in a verbal altercation with two soldiers about his request for leave. Grey said Monday that one of those soldiers was killed. At the time of the shooting, Lopez was undergoing treatment for several mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. He also was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicated an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition,” Milley said.
Lopez had no apparent links to terrorism and the investigation is ongoing, Milley said.
2009: Hasan, in a letter to the Herald last July, said he believed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are illegal and he was “defending” his religion. In a confidential mental health report from 2010 leaked to the New York Times, Hasan said execution would earn him a martyr’s death.
2014: Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 others before turning the gun on himself. All were soldiers.
Unlike the Hasan case, the gunman will not face trial and survivors will not come face-to-face with him again.
2009: Hasan killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others, making it the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history. The majority of dead and wounded were soldiers. Last year, family members of victims and three Texas lawmakers announced a proposed bill to reclassify the shooting as an act of terrorism rather than workplace violence.
As a result, victims and families would receive combat-related compensation and injury rehabilitation pay, life insurance coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs, tax breaks after death in a combat zone and special pay for exposure to hostile fire or imminent danger. The bill also would provide retroactive benefits, dating back to the attack. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, previously said the bill will also award Purple Hearts to all military victims.
The fight to reclassify the 2009 shootings from “workplace violence” to an act of terrorism continues.
As he sat at Howze Theater, Hancock remembers waiting to hear news from Gen. Robert W. Cone, who was the III Corps and Fort Hood commander in 2009.
This year, Milley provided the public with information during a live news conference the night of the shooting.
Although Milley may have been more forthcoming with information — perhaps because Lopez was dead and Hasan was paralyzed and awaiting trial — Hancock said both commanders didn’t comment immediately. Instead, they waited several hours after the incidents to release information.
“We had to wait a while for (the general) to get his information to pass onto us,” Hancock said. “I think they have to be sure of what they’re saying. ... They were two different situations and gathering of information is different because the situation is different.”
When Hancock heard about the April 2 shooting, he — like most of the community — was shocked.
“It’s as unbelievable as it was back in 2009,” he said. “It’s just totally unexpected.”
Hancock said this year’s shooting was different in terms of severity, but the same in terms of loss. Despite the uncertainty of what the future holds for Fort Hood, Hancock said he’s confident the community will rally support for the victims and their families in the coming months just like they rallied around the victims of the 2009 shooting.
Although he hasn’t gone inside the Howze Theater since the 2009 shooting, Hancock walked outside of it in passing. He encourages victims to do the same.
“There are too many methods in which a person can wreak havoc on a community ... There is only so much you can do in any situation like this,” he said. “I don’t think we should just stop living and give into a situation like this. We need to get out and deal with the families and those wounded and be there to support them. If we carry on our lives, that will be encouragement to them.”