By all outward appearances, Fort Hood returned to normalcy four years since an attack on unarmed soldiers left 13 dead, but some characteristics remain.
The barriers that protected the courtroom where Nidal Hasan was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death were removed.
But the scene of the crime remains surrounded by razor wire, with no clear-cut plan on what should be done with Building 42003, where 12 soldiers and one retired soldier were gunned down Nov. 5, 2009.
The scars may fade, but they’ll never fully heal. For retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Royal, the shooting changed his life.
“Normal will never be normal again,” Royal said.
Hasan shot Royal in the back during the shooting rampage at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. The gunshot didn’t cripple Royal, but he feels the emotional toll from the attack every day.
Royal’s medical discharge from the Army was finalized Thursday, cutting short his career at 16 years, 11 months and 19 days — short of the 20 he hoped to hit.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an everyday reality for Royal and the main reason for his forced retirement.
“I don’t trust anybody,” he said.
Royal was one of more than 30 people wounded during the attack. As the year progressed from the shooting, he created the 32 Still Standing Foundation to help other victims.
He made headlines when he ran 80 miles over five days from Austin to Fort Hood’s main gate to raise awareness for his organization a year ago.
He said that positive press undermined him during his medical board hearing, earning him a lower rate of compensation for his disability. And it forced him to shut down the foundation’s operations.
“I mean it’s an organization that I have been so proud of for so long,” Royal said. “It really has been heartbreaking.”
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford said he still feels no closure four years after Hasan shot him seven times. “None at all,” he said.
Lunsford said he hoped to confront Hasan directly in court. Prosecutors told him he would get that chance after Hasan’s conviction and sentencing through a victim impact statement.
But he wasn’t given the chance in an abbreviated trial.
“I disagreed with that,” Lunsford said. “We all should have had the opportunity to give a victim impact statement, family members of the deceased and the family members of the victims that survived.”
Instead of the Purple Heart Lunsford believes he deserves, after 22 years enlisted, the Army awarded him an Army Commendation Medal, an award he calls “an embarrassment.”
Lunsford and Royal’s battle with Hasan and the Army will continue in the form of a large civil lawsuit that lays blame for the Fort Hood shooting on the FBI, Defense Department and the Army for letting a radicalized Muslim slip through the cracks. They are part of a group of 200 victims and victims’ family members suing the government for damages.
The government on Thursday filed paperwork seeking to stay all hearings until Hasan’s verdict and sentence are confirmed by the court-martial convening authority, the senior general on post.
Col. Mike Mulligan, lead prosecutor in the case, stated in court documents he does not expect that to happen until May or June.
With a fight still ahead, it may be years before they find some closure.
But Joleen Cahill, wife of retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Cahill, said her family has found some peace since Hasan’s conviction.
Her husband was the only civilian slain in the attack.
“There has been a sense of closure for all of my family,” Cahill said. “What was very difficult was all of the delays, and we couldn’t plan our lives at all, and you just wanted it finished. We’re glad how it finished.”
Cahill became a constant presence in the court during the protracted legal battle that ended Aug. 28 when a jury of 13 Army officers sentenced Hasan to death. She would travel an hour and 15 minutes each way to watch hearings that were sometimes mundane, sometimes borderline absurd.
“It’s not hanging over my head any more,” Cahill said. “I don’t have to worry about what day there was a court date and if justice has been served. That was the best part, that there was justice.”