U.S. News

04.03.14

Ft. Hood Shooter Had a 'Clean Record'

While the gunman’s motive is still unclear in Wednesday’s deadly incident at the Texas Army base, military officials say he had "mental-health issues."

This story has been updated. We will continue to add new information as it becomes available.

“We’re heartbroken that something like this might have happened again.”

Those were President Obama’s words Wednesday night in a brief address about the mass shooting that killed three people and wounded 16 others at Fort Hood, an Army base in Killeen Texas. According to official reports, all of the victims were military personnel. The injured are being treated at local hospitals and their conditions range from critical to serious. 

The gunman, 34-year-old Specialist Ivan Lopez, also died after taking his own life.

Fort Hood was the scene of another mass shooting in 2009, carried out by Major Nidal Hasan, an al Qaeda sympathizer and self-styled jihadist who killed 13 people in his attack.

Terrorism is not suspected in Wednesday’s shooting.

The incident, which began at around 4:30p.m. Texas local time, is said by some reports to have been triggered by an argument between Lopez and another soldier.

Lopez had entered Fort Hood Wednedsay with a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, which he was prohibited to possess on base under Army regulations. He bought the weapon at Guns Galore, a local Killeen gun shop where Hasan purchased one of the guns used in his 2009 attack.

This wasn’t an isolated act of violence aimed at a single target, and whatever led to the initial confrontation, Lopez did not stop after he began killing until he was confronted by authorities. He drove away from the building where he shot his first victims and fired at more people from his car. He then entered and began shooting into a second building, according to the account given by Fort Hood’s commander, Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, at a press conference Wednesday night.

First responders reached the scene within 15 minutes after the first shots were fired according to General Milley. A military police officer confronted Lopez and drew her weapon. It’s unclear whether or not they exchanged fire, but Lopez then used his gun to kill himself.

"It was clearly heroic what she did at that moment in time," General Milley said of the military police officer who faced off with Lopez before he died.

Reports indicate that Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico, worked as a motor transport operator, in a non-combat arms branch of the army. He was identified as a specialist, a junior enlisted rank in the army typically held by soldiers who have served for fewer than four years. He had only recently moved to Fort Hood in February and was deployed to Iraq for four months in 2011, toward the end of that war, where he served as a truck driver.

Lopez, who had served nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before enlisting in the active duty Army, also spent a year serving on the Sinai Peninsula. According to military officials, he was married and had children.

“This soldier had behavioral health and mental health issues and was being treated for that,” General Milley said. “He was under diagnosis for PTSD, but had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD.”

Though a soldier can report symptoms of PTSD, only medical professionals can determine the appropriate diagnosis. Soldiers undergoing medical treatment for mental health issues endure a process of screening and evaluation.

It was confirmed that Lopez took medications for his mental health issues, including Ambien as well as medications to treat anxiety and depression.

Responding to a question about whether Lopez had been wounded in Iraq, General Milley said, “There are reports he self-reported a traumatic brain injury." The general indicated that medical experts had not confirmed the diagnosis of brain injury.

Veterans groups, leery of seeing veterans depicted as mentally unstable and violence prone, have urged restraint among people searching for the killer’s motives.

While it’s possible that Lopez was suffering from PTSD, he may also have had mental disorders that predated his military service, as was the case with Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis. Or, he may have had psychological problems that began while he was in the military, but were unrelated to his service in Iraq.

Currently there is no solid evidence to the nature of his mental health issues, what caused them, or what treatments he had been receiving.

On Thursday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Lopez "had a clean record” without any major disciplinary issues. Lopez visited a psychiatrist last month according to McHugh, and did not show "any sign of likely violence to himself or others.” 

In some of his closing remarks, General Milley addressed the issue of private guns being carried by soldiers on Fort Hood in response to reports that Lopez had used an unregistered handgun, which are prohibited on military bases.

“I don’t endorse carrying concealed weapons on base,” he said. “If you have a weapon and you’re on base it’s supposed to be registered on base. This weapon was not registered on base.”

Asked whether security protocols would be modified in light of a prohibited weapon being smuggled on base and used in Wednesday’s shooting, the general said, “I will be reviewing all of those procedures.

“Right now my concern is with the families, those who were injured and those killed.”