FORT HOOD — President Barack Obama returned for the second time in less than five years to attend a memorial for victims of a tragic shooting on post.
The president spoke to a crowd of 3,000 gathered outside III Corps Headquarters during a memorial ceremony for the three killed and 16 wounded in the April 2 shooting before 34-year-old Spc. Ivan A. Lopez killed himself.
“It’s love, tested by tragedy, that brings us together again,” Obama said as he stood next to three photos and three sets of boots, helmets and rifles on the stage.
The tableaus represented the three soldiers killed in the attack: Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, 39, of Mulberry, Fla.; Staff Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, of Aguadilla, P.R.; and Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, of Effingham, Ill.
The three men had more than 50 years of military service and nine deployments between them.
“It was love for the Army that made them the soldiers they were,” Obama told the crowd. “For Danny, said his fiancee, being in the Army was his life. Carlos, said a friend, was the epitome of what you would want a leader to be in the Army. Timothy helped counsel his fellow soldiers.”
The president and first lady Michelle Obama spent two hours meeting with family members of the victims, as well as those wounded before the memorial ceremony.
On its way to the ceremony, the president’s motorcade passed the area where the April 2 shooting occurred. There were flowers near some of the buildings, including the 49th Transportation Battalion Headquarters. Army investigators said the shooting began after a verbal argument between Lopez and other soldiers over his request for leave.
In about eight minutes, Lopez fired 35 rounds of ammunition both inside and outside multiple buildings on post, investigators said. Those buildings have since been released back to Fort Hood.
In the days after the shooting, Army officials revealed Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico, was seeking treatment for several psychological problems, including depression and anxiety, and brought the firearm he used in the shooting on post against Fort Hood and Army regulations.
The president said more could be done to help counsel those with mental health issues and to keep firearms out of their hands.
“We must honor these men by doing more to care for our fellow Americans living with mental illness — civilian and military. Today four American soldiers are gone. Four Army families are devastated,” Obama said. “As commander in chief, I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver to them the care that they need and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.”
Obama and the other speakers referenced the November 2009 shooting in which former Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 32.
“And to the men and women of Fort Hood ... part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before,” Obama said.
“This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from five years ago. Once more, soldiers who survived foreign war zones were struck down here at home, where they’re supposed to be safe. We still do not yet know exactly why.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno also referred the 2009 shooting during his comments.
“We cannot help but feel the echo of that horrible day in the tragedy that we now face,” he said.
Odierno, who served as commander of III Corps and Fort Hood from 2006 to 2008, said the fact that both shootings occurred on post only made the situation more tragic.
“Our job as leaders is to prepare soldiers for the chaos of war ... yet somehow the loss of comrades in heat of battle is a risk we understand, and with time, we can accept,” Odierno said.
“That these soldiers were lost on American soil at the hands of one of our own makes this tragedy heartbreaking and inexplicable.”
Obama, Odierno and others also noted the heroic actions of the three slain soldiers.
Ferguson and Rodriguez attempted to block the shooter’s advance and saved the lives of other soldiers. Owens was reportedly shot while walking toward Lopez, trying to calm him down.
“They are not gone, they are not forgotten, and they never will be,” said Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, III Corps and Fort Hood commander. “Every day we will honor them by striving to be worthy of their sacrifice.”