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Fort Hood survivors to face gunman at trial

Court martial starts Tuesday

Former staff sergeant Shawn Manning holds a photo of a memorial for victims of the 2009 mass shooting. Manning still has two bullets in his body from the attack in Texas; he is to testify against Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Former staff sergeant Shawn Manning holds a photo of a memorial for victims of the 2009 mass shooting. Manning still has two bullets in his body from the attack in Texas; he is to testify against Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

LILLINGTON, N.C. — Alonzo Lunsford has trouble getting out of chairs and warns his family to wake him gently. Kathy Platoni can’t shake the image of the man who died at her knees. Shawn Manning still has two bullets in his body and gets easily unnerved by crowds.

Survivors of the 2009 shooting rampage that killed 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas fight these demons daily.

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Now, after years of delay, they will be face to face with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who goes on trial in the attack starting Tuesday. After dismissing his lawyers, Hasan got permission to represent himself, putting him in the unusual position of asking questions of the very people he admits targeting.

Hasan, a Muslim who has said he was protecting the Taliban from US aggression, was shot by a civilian police officer during the attack and is paralyzed from the abdomen down.

Manning said he dreads the courtroom confrontation.

‘‘I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,’’ said Manning, a mental health specialist who was to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. ‘‘I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.’’

Lunsford — a now-retired staff sergeant who was shot seven times — relishes the thought of staring at Hasan and telling him that he did not win. Like Manning, he carries two bullets — one in a small wooden box, the other in his back.

‘The biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again.’

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‘‘That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again,’’ he said as he sat on his porch in Lillington, rubbing the shiny slug between his fingers. ‘‘I will never show any fear in the face of my enemy. Never.’’

Platoni just hopes she can keep her composure enough to support the family of Captain John Gaffaney, the friend and soldier who died next to her.

The families of people who were killed struggle with a roller coaster of emotions, too.

Eduardo Caraveo, whose father, Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, died, took a few weeks of leave from his job to deal with his emotions ahead of the trial.

‘‘You’re going to hear stuff . . . that you don’t know how you’re going to take,’’ he said.

Joleen Cahill, whose husband, Mike Cahill, was shot six times after he tried to stop the shooter, has struggled with the loneliness of an empty house. She wants to ensure her anger doesn’t take over at the trial.

‘‘I want to be the one in control here, not him,’’ she said.

In the large hall where troops were preparing for deployments, everyone was unarmed. Everyone except Hasan.

Manning, who had gotten married just a few weeks before, was almost done for the day. Platoni had left the hall and was in a building nearby.

Then in an instant, lives were changed forever.

‘‘I hear someone yell ‘allahu akbar,’ ’’ recalled Manning, who had done two previous deployments in Iraq. ‘‘Usually something bad is going to follow after that, so I look up at him and he started shooting. He probably fired five or six shots before he shot me in the chest.’’

About 10 minutes after the shooting started, the horror ended. And another began.

Manning and Lunsford spent weeks in hospitals, and have retired from the military. Platoni deployed to Afghanistan a month later, setting aside the trauma to do her job.

Manning and Lunsford continue to fight for military wages they say they lost when officials ruled that the attack was not a terrorist act and their wounds were not related to combat.

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