Families react to sentence

Kerry Cahill, right, comforts her mother, Joleen, as they join other family members to talk about Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Grant Cahill, who was killed Nov. 5, 2009, during the Fort Hood shooting, during a news conference Wednesday outside Fort Hood’s Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center following the sentencing phase for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The jury recommended a death sentence for Hasan. Also pictured are Keely Vanacker, left, and brother, James.

AP/Eric Gay

FORT HOOD — The house of grief is very large, Kerry Cahill said when speaking to the media about the sentencing of her father’s killer.

“There are a lot of rooms in there. This court-martial is one of them, and it’s a door we get to shut today,” she said.

Maj. Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death Wednesday afternoon after being convicted Friday of killing 13 people on Nov. 5, 2009, at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center.

“The last three and a half years have been long and difficult,” Cahill said. “Although this court-martial is over, our lives have changed forever.”

The 13 killed left behind eight widows, one widower, 12 minors without parents and 18 parents who lost a child, said Col. Mike Mulligan, lead prosecutor, during his closing argument at the trial.

Throughout two days of testimony, many of those family members spoke about the impact of the death of their loved ones. Some spoke of suicide attempts, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress.

Joleen Cahill, widow of retired Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael Cahill, the lone civilian killed Nov. 5, 2009, said it was important for military history that these struggles were documented through firsthand testimony.

“I want that history to be accurate,” she said during a news conference Wednesday. “This nation needed to hear their words. ... They needed to hear the pain and the PTSD so many of these soldiers, civilians and their families feel today, and they needed to understand the horror and courage of that day.”

Gale Hunt, mother of Spc. Jason Hunt, asked the government to begin taking care of these victims. She then said Hasan is a “coward and a unrepented murderer,” and she is finished talking about him.

Hunt pulled an 8½-by-11-inch photo of her son from an envelope and held it before the cameras.

“This is my son J. Hunt,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing Hasan in the paper.

“(Remember) that he was a very kind and thoughtful person,” she said. “(Remember) that his idea of going again to Iraq was not to harm anybody, but to save other people’s lives. He always said, ‘I would take a bullet for anybody.’”

While Hunt would not speak about her thoughts of the death penalty, the mother of Pfc. Aaron T. Nemelka said she was relieved justice was reached.

“We have all heard that Hasan believes with the death penalty that he will be seen as a martyr, but I know and feel that he is a coward, a traitor and a murderer,” Teena Nemelka said in a statement read aloud by a Fort Hood official. “He was convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder. I am happy and satisfied with that. I appreciate the support and prayers from so many out there.”

While the trial was difficult, it also brought together the families of the fallen to share stories of their loved ones, said Keely Vanacker, Cahill’s daughter.

“These (deceased) are wonderful people,” she said. “It’s inspiring that there are still those wonderful people out there that care about others and do their due diligence. Sometimes out of the ground comes roses.”

The Cahill family also asked people to remember, not the words and images of a murderer, but those heroes who fought with honor and respect that day.

“I want you to remember the ones who saved lives — the medics, the wounded, the SRP staff,” Kerry Cahill said. “Those soldiers who did their job and saved every single life they could have. ... The police who charged into gunfire without thought for themselves.

“I will honor and remember, and I hope you do too.”

Contact Rose L. Thayer at rthayer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.

Rose L. Thayer is the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. She joined the paper in February 2011 as a health and military reporter. View her complete profile Here.

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