On Nov. 5, 2009, Noel Del Rosario was working his regular shift as a volunteer at Metroplex Hospital in Killeen when he received a phone call from his son.
“He told me that there had been a shooting on post, and that we had people in-bound,” said Del Rosario, 64, an Army veteran and Killeen resident. “I went to tell the staff right away.”
A short time later, Del Rosario, who acts as a liaison between emergency room staff and the families of patients, watched as the first of the wounded were rushed into the hospital.
“When I saw the first casualties coming in, that’s when I started to realize just how bad it was,” Del Rosario said. “There were ambulances backed up at the entrance, and this was before we renovated the ER, so we had to bring beds out into the hallways.”
Del Rosario was one of many Killeen residents who witnessed the immediate effects of the deadly shooting at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead and 32 injured.
A mayor’s view
Timothy Hancock started the morning with no idea how the day would unfold. Hancock, who was Killeen’s mayor at the time, was on post at the Palmer theater; less than a mile from the Soldier Readiness Processing Center where the shooting occurred.
“My wife and I were on Fort Hood to attend a graduation, and when we pulled up to the theater, a police officer told us what was going on,” Hancock said. “We went inside, and they locked us down.
“The more information we got, the more we realized just how serious things were,” Hancock said, recalling watching events unfold on television. “It was sad, and it was shocking.”
Since then, Hancock, Del Rosario and many others in the greater Fort Hood area have tried to come to terms with the shooting amid frustration over numerous delays in the trial for accused shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
“Most people have watched this happen, and they just want it to be over,” Hancock said. “They are waiting and watching as there’s more delays, and they want to see justice done.”
Anger-fueled comments about the trial, or lack thereof, are common on websites, including the Killeen Daily Herald’s Facebook page.
“It has been three years and eight months. I believe he has delayed this long enough,” reads one comment.
“They’re taking way too long and wasting too much money on that monster,” reads another.
For victims of the shooting, several of whom still live in the area, the trial marks a pivotal point after a long journey.
Chief Warrant Officer-3 Christopher Royal, III Corps, was shot twice during the 2009 attack. He said he is “absolutely” ready for the trial to begin.
While he still wants justice, Royal said he has forgiven Hasan.
“I have to ... just to make it another day,” he said.
But trial or no trial, the pain of Nov. 5, 2009, lives with Royal every day.
“I don’t get to escape that,” he said.
‘In the right hands’
Despite the lengthy legal process, Hancock said he believed the trial is “in the right hands,” and that those affected by the shooting will finally have some important questions answered once the proceedings start.
“We were left with a lot of questions. ... The victims and the families were left with a lot of questions about why this happened. Now they might have an opportunity to know.”
While Hancock and Del Rosario witnessed the horror and chaos immediately after the shooting and the pain, anger and frustration that came later, both were quick to point out how the tragedy also highlighted the strength and resilience of the community.
Del Rosario recalled how hospital staff and the families of the injured pulled together that day.
“In spite of all the madness, everyone did their best to be professional and help,” he said. “The staff knew what needed to be done and they all jumped in to help. The families, they all did their best to remain calm and be strong for their loved ones.”
Hancock said the response in the days following the shooting was a testament to the strength of the people in the community.
“Our community and this region has always been made of strong people, and I never had a doubt in my mind that we would take care of business and recover,” Hancock said. “It make take a long time, but I believe that we can overcome this.”
Contact Chris McGuinness at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.