Kim Munley remembers some strange things happening on the morning of Nov. 5, 2009.
“There were weird signs that day,” said Munley, who was a shift leader with the Fort Hood police at the time.
One officer signed out a shotgun, which is unusual. There had been a shooting at a post exchange on another post in recent days, and there was talk of upcoming training for such cases. Her No. 2 on the shift, Sgt. Mark Todd, had been called to a report of vandalism at a barrack. Someone had thrown eggs.
But Munley told him to classify it has a non-damaging vandalism, which would save him the hassle of having to file a bunch of paperwork back at the office. It turns out that decision would save Munley’s life, she said.
Indeed, strange things were afoot that day, but Munley had no idea what would happen next: The bloodiest day in Fort Hood’s history.
Nearly three years have passed since the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting, the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base in history. Thirteen people died and 32 were injured. However, the trial for the accused gunman has yet to begin and many of the victims have not fully healed.
Post-traumatic stress disorder still runs deep among survivors of the shooting and their families. Lives ended. Lives changed. A few victims still live in the Fort Hood area, but most of the survivors have since moved on. Many of the soldiers preparing to deploy that day were in National Guard and Reserve units, representing states and towns all across the country. Some are now in a fight with the Defense Department over how the shooting should be classified: workplace violence or combat related. All, it seems, are still coping with the shooting in their own way. Marriages have been rocky. Getting back to a normal life — in the military or out — isn’t easy.
Munley was washing her patrol car when the call came in.
Dispatch came over the radio and said: “We have reports of shots fired at the SRP site.”
“Holy Crap! SRP is where soldiers deploy,” said Munley. When she arrived, “I could just see soldiers running everywhere, cars screeching out of the parking lot. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
Soldiers pointed her in the director of the shooter, and within moments, “I see a red laser on me,” Munley said. She was wearing a protective vest. Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man awaiting trial for murder, started firing, Munley said. As she went to fire back, Hasan ducked to the other side of a building before she could get a round off.
She tried to cut him off on the other side of a building. She did, and the two began trading gunfire, one shot hitting a brick that blew off bits of shrapnel into Munley’s hand.
Hasan closed in, and “we just started firing blindly from 6 to 8 feet,” Munley said. Both guns quickly jammed. “We were both like, oh sh—!”
Munley was shot three times.
“I know I’d hit him once.”
Hasan stumbled off, but had gone only a few feet when he met the other officer who had responded, Sgt. Todd, who would have still been tied up with that vandalism report had Munley not made her earlier decision.
“I heard Sgt. Todd again say drop your weapon,” Munley said. Hasan didn’t, and Todd opened fire.
“I saw (Hasan) go down, which was a big sigh of relief.” Other soldiers came to her aid, treating her wounds.
Three years later, the 37-year-old Munley, is about to start a new job as a background investigator. She lives in her hometown of Wilmington, N.C.
Life, she said, has “definitely changed.” She has learned to deal with the lingering pain of the shooting by helping others. In turn, that helps her, emotionally.
“I can’t say my recovery has been any better or worse than any other victims.”
She joined the Army at age 29 as a chemical operations specialist. “I always wanted to serve my country.” She left the Army in 2007.
Munley worked as a police officer in 1999 in North Carolina, and again in 2008 with Department of the Army at Fort Hood.
She had been on the force less than two years when the shooting occurred. And there’s one thing that still irks her when she thinks about the shooting.
Typically, she sits in her car at a parking lot of the Readiness Center and begins her paperwork for the day. But on Nov. 5, 2009, she opted to wash her car first. And as she was holding a scrub brush, dispatch came over the radio with reports of shots fired. She said she might have been at the scene of the shooting at it its start if she had not decided to wash her car.
“That’s kind of an inner struggle I have,” Munley said.
She can walk, but can’t really run. Her legs give her problems, and so does her hand. The ordeal has taken a toll on Munley and her children. She left the police department and moved back to North Carolina.
She likes to participate in physical events like mud runs and events where she can help others.
“I try to be as active as I can,” she said.
Healing, however, is still a process. “Nobody can heal from something like that. It leaves scars forever.”
She refuses behavioral counseling, preferring her own personal treatment of helping others in any way she can. And when she helps others, she heals herself.
As the third anniversary of the Nov. 5 Fort Hood shooting passed, Hasan managed to delay his court-martial indefinitely.
Government-appointed attorneys for the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist argued repeatedly that they had been inundated with thousands of documents of evidence that had not been fully reviewed, and military judge Col. Gregory Gross allowed Hasan’s counsel more time. But eventually, Gross set Aug. 20 as the firm date for Hasan’s trial.
On June 7, the defense team notified Gross that Hasan had grown a beard, a decision that created legal wrangling over Hasan’s freedom to practice religion, the Army’s ability to forcibly shave a soldier and questions over the judge’s impartiality.
Now, the proceedings have no start date in sight while military appeals courts examine three complex issues.
When Hasan arrived in the Fort Hood court wearing a full beard, it appeared to be no more than an annoyance.
Gross ordered him to shave. Hasan refused and was removed from the courtroom.
Wearing a beard violates military regulations on appearance. A soldier is only allowed to grow a well-kept mustache. Not following the regulations disrespected the court, Gross said.
Gross held Hasan in contempt of court and placed him in a trailer, where he remained in constant contact with his lawyers and watched the proceedings on a closed-circuit television.
Excluding Hasan from the courtroom could be grounds to appeal any convictions that arise from trial, so when it came time for Hasan to enter pleas to 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, he would have to make them in person.
When that time came, Gross ordered Hasan forcibly shaved, which led his defense team to appeal and brought proceedings to a halt.
So far, Gross’ order stands. On Oct. 18, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously denied a defense request seeking to prevent Hasan from being forcibly shaved. That ruling will be reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military appeals court.
Hasan has said he grew a beard for religious purposes. In several briefs filed with the courts, Hasan stated he fears his death is imminent. A devout Muslim, Hasan claims dying without a beard would be considered a sin.
Prosecutors have countered this claim, stating his decision is secular. They used a transcript of a telephone conversation between Hasan and an Al Jazeera reporter in which Hasan identifies with the Mujahideen to show that he has only grown a beard out of hatred for the Army and the government.
Hasan has asked for and been denied exemptions to military regulations on appearance.
In the past, the Army has allowed some Sikhs and Orthodox Jews to wear beards. There also is a secular exception for men who suffer from razor bumps or severe acne. The military permits them to grow beards up to one-quarter inch.
Judges from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces have indicated that they may be receptive to Hasan’s argument. The court ordered Gross to provide reasons explaining why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply.
Lawyers for Hasan have repeatedly asked Gross to remove himself from the case. All their efforts so far have been denied.
But in the most recent ruling by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, two judges stated that Gross had shown bias when he ordered Hasan forcibly shaved.
That decision should have been made by Hasan’s chain of command, their opinion states.
“Without compelling the government to act, the military judge’s decision to order the forced shaving at the government’s request was inappropriate as it compromised his impartiality,” the dissenting opinion states.
Hasan’s attorneys have until today to file appeals with the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The government will then be given time to file briefs in response, and the court could order attorneys to make arguments in person.
If the high military court rules against Hasan, he would still have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, which would further delay proceedings.