On Nov. 5, 2009, Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, a mental health specialist in the Army Reserves, had been at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center for nearly six hours as his unit prepared to deploy to Afghanistan. He was almost finished with the various stations soldiers have to go through before they deploy, such as vaccinations, insurance and other paperwork.
He was to be assigned to the same unit as Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, and would have likely worked with the officer while they were in Afghanistan. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, Hasan came into the building armed with .357 Magnum and a laser-sighted pistol, according to multiple witness accounts, and shouted in Arabic “Allahu akbar,” which translates as “God is great.”
Then came gunfire.
Manning was perhaps the first soldier to go down, shot in the chest.
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. The trial for the accused gunman has yet to begin, and while the blood has been cleaned off the floor, many of the victims have not fully healed.
Post-traumatic stress disorder 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 moved on.
Many of the soldiers preparing to deploy that day were in National Guard and Reserve units, representing states and towns across the country. Some are now in a fight with the Defense Department over how the shooting should be classified: workplace violence or an act of terror.
All, it seems, are coping with the shooting in their own way. Marriages have been rocky. Getting back to a normal life — be it in the military or out — has not been easy.
As Manning sat in a chair waiting the last few minutes to be checked out of the readiness center, he said he heard Hasan’s jihadist cry. He looked up and saw the red laser.
“I was shot six times,” Manning said. “The first round hit me in the chest.”
Manning hit the floor and started crawling toward a nearby table. He said Hasan shot him five more times in an effort to finish him off. When he got near the table, he saw other soldiers were packed up behind it, taking cover. Manning pretended to be dead so Hasan would stop shooting him. He could feel his lung filling with fluid.
Moments passed. More shots were fired.
Someone shouted “run,” and somehow, Manning was able to get up and run out of the room to relative safety, where other soldiers helped dress his wounds. The shooter was still on a rampage, but Manning’s experience was mostly finished. He made it out alive.
Bullets still inside
Today, two bullets from the shooting are still lodged inside him, including one in the spine. He can walk and get around well enough, but there is lingering pain. Looking back, the shooting clearly changed his life.
“It’s changed the way I look at people,” said the 36-year-old Manning, a Washington state resident. “I don’t enjoy things the way I used to.”
And how does he feel about Hasan, who is locked up in the Bell County Jail awaiting trial?
“Obviously very angry. I have a few choice things I’d like to do to him,” said Manning, who deployed to Iraq twice when he was on active duty.
Manning’s civilian job is a licensed mental health counselor, and he helps soldiers coming back from deployments, some who may be facing post-traumatic stress disorder. With his own experience in the shooting, he can relate more with cases of severe trauma.
He goes back to work in December, but all aspects of his life are still recovering, including his marriage.
“It’s been pretty rough,” Manning said. “We were just married about a month before the shooting.”
Chief Warrant Officer-3 Christopher Royal was sitting in the same room as Manning, waiting to get his official Army photo before he deployed with III Corps to Iraq.
“Right when I sat down, that’s when the firing started,” he said. “I first thought that it was a training exercise.”
But Royal quickly realized it wasn’t. He made eye contact with Hasan, and saw the pistol in his hand, and the dot from the laser sight placed on fellow soldiers.
As the bullets flew and the carnage increased, Royal said he kept an eye on Hasan and noticed his weapon ran out of ammo at one point. Hasan went to reload.
“I still see the magazine falling,” Royal said, adding that he tried to rush Hasan from across the room. But the shooter reloaded before Royal could reach him. Royal took cover again, behind turned-over tables and chairs in the large waiting area.
Soldiers, including Royal, made it outside, but Hasan followed. Royal took cover behind a sport utility vehicle. In the process, he was shot twice in the back but barely realized it. He saw Hasan make his way toward a nearby theater, and he got to a secure area where he warned other soldiers of the attack. Other soldiers treated his wounds and got him to the hospital.
“Seeing the mayhem in that small area,” Royal said, leaving the sentence unfinished.
Royal will reach his 16th year in the Army on Nov. 12. He has deployed to Iraq four times and Afghanistan once. He faced combat in 2003, but the Fort Hood shooting impacted him more than anything else. It’s changed his life, and the healing is ongoing.
The healing may take “forever,” Royal said. “It’s still lasting.”
Royal said he has pain in his back, and his leg will sometimes go numb. Mentally, the shooting is something he said he will have to deal with for the rest of his life.
He doesn’t shed tears over it anymore, because “I’ve cried all of them out,” Royal said. Because of the shooting, and in part because of his five tours to combat zones, he’s developed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and trust issues. He’s on constant surveillance, scanning for threats that he feels could spring up anywhere at any time.
For Royal’s part, he said he has forgiven Hasan.
Forgiveness came when Royal was participating in a run for his 32 Still Standing Foundation in his home state of Alabama nearly two years after the shooting.
“I was having a lot of pain,” Royal said. “I was asking Christ to help me complete this run.”
When he was about 20 miles into the 46-mile run, Royal said God instilled in him forgiveness for Hasan.
“I had to let it go,” Royal said. “It was joy, a newfound joy.”
It was an important point in a healing process that, according to survivors of the Fort Hood shooting, may never really end.
To mark the third anniversary, Royal is running from Fort Hood to the state Capitol in Austin. He began Thursday and plans to finish Monday.
While Hasan’s trial will likely draw plenty of attention, Royal said there is an underlying issue that may be more important: Taking a look at Hasan’s past and examining how the shooting could have been prevented.
“Let’s look at that,” Royal said. “Let’s all take ownership.”
Shooter for a shooter
Fort Hood civilian police Sgt. Kim Munley was washing her patrol car when a call came over the radio: “We have reports of shots fired at the SRP site.”
“Holy crap! SRP is where soldiers are deploying,” said Munley, who envisioned perhaps a soldier disgruntled about deploying. When she arrived, “I could just see soldiers running everywhere, cars screeching out of the parking lot,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
Soldiers pointed her in the direction of the shooter, and within moments, “I see a red laser on me,” Munley said. She was wearing a protective vest. Hasan started firing. As Munley went to fire back, Hasan ducked to the other side of a building.
She rounded a corner to try and cut Hasan off, and was soon facing him again. The two traded gunfire, one shot hitting a brick that blew bits of shrapnel into Munley’s hand.
Hasan closed in, and “we just started firing blindly within 6 to 8 feet,” Munley said. Both guns quickly jammed. “We’re both, like, oh sh--!”
Munley had been 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. Mark Todd.
“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.”
Three years later, the 37-year-old Munley is about to start a new job as a background investigator. She’s back in her hometown of Wilmington, N.C. She’s excited about her new job, and even more excited about a new life partner. She is getting married on Nov. 11.
Life, she said, has definitely changed. She went through a divorce “because of the shooting” and the ordeal has taken a toll on her two daughters, now 5 and 15. Munley has learned to deal with the lingering pain of the shooting by helping others.
“I can’t say my recovery has been any worse or better than any other victim out there,” she said. “It’s been rough.”
A former city police officer and Army veteran, Munley had been on the Fort Hood police force less than two years when the shooting occurred.
There’s one thing that still irks her when she thinks about that bloody day.
Typically, she sat in her car at a parking lot of the readiness center to begin filing out her paperwork for the day. But on Nov. 5, 2009, she opted to wash her car first. Otherwise, she said she might have been at the scene of the shooting at its start.
“That’s kind of an inner struggle I have,” Munley said.
She can walk, but can’t really run due to a prosthetic knee. Her legs give her problems and so does her hand, but she likes to participate in physical events.
“I try to be as active as I can.”
Coping with what happened and moving on might be possible, Munley said. But fully healing, that’s not so easy.
“Nobody can heal from something that happened like that,” she said. “It scars you for life.”