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In new Fort Hood attack, an echo of 2009 rampage

Army officials say little could prevent Wednesday’s deaths

A man worked Thursday on a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Fort Hood at Central Christian Church in Killeen, Texas.

Eric Gray/Associated Press

A man worked Thursday on a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Fort Hood at Central Christian Church in Killeen, Texas.

KILLEEN, Tex. — In the aftermath of a deadly rampage at Fort Hood here in November 2009 that left 13 people dead, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a Pentagon review of the shooting to help ensure, he said, that “nothing like this ever happens again.”

Nearly five years later it did — in eerily similar fashion.

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On Wednesday, when a troubled Iraq war veteran — Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez, 34 — shot and killed three people and wounded 16 others before taking his own life at Fort Hood, he did so in Army uniform after sneaking a high-powered handgun onto the base, just as the 2009 gunman had done. Specialist Lopez bought his gun at the same shop near the base where the 2009 gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, bought his weapon. Each shooting started in a medical support area for troops, and each ended when the gunman confronted a female police officer rushing to the scene.

There was also a fundamental difference: Officials say there is no indication that Lopez committed an act of terrorism as Hasan did.

But the replay of a mass shooting at Fort Hood, particularly following the one in September that left 12 people dead at the Washington Navy Yard, raised questions about what lessons Army officials had learned from 2009; how effectively military installations can keep out guns; and how prepared they are to deal with threats from within, including from soldiers or contractors intent on doing harm to others on the base.

At Fort Hood, which sprawls for 340 square miles over the Texas prairie, Lopez was being treated for behavioral and mental health issues. To enter the base, he would have undergone no security screening beyond showing his identification and would have passed through no metal detectors.

Personnel are not allowed to carry concealed weapons on military bases. Soldiers on post must register their firearms, which Army officials said Lopez failed to do with the handgun he used in the attack. Fort Hood’s rules for soldiers who are not police officers rely in large part on the honor system and require all personnel bringing a privately owned firearm onto the base to declare that they are doing so and state why.

“Fort Hood is a big installation,” the base’s commanding general, Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve got a population well over 100,000 here. It would not be realistic to do a pat-down search on every single soldier and employee on Fort Hood for a weapon on a daily basis.”

Those who regularly or occasionally work at or visit the base agreed that it was not feasible for a post such as Fort Hood to thoroughly check for guns. Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism agent at the State Department who is now a security analyst for an international intelligence firm, Stratfor, said he had visited the base the day before the shooting to do research for a book he is writing. “Nobody at the main entrance was asking me if I had a gun, and nobody was checking,” he said.

On Thursday, as the flags on base flew at half-staff and military officials and federal investigators began to search for a motive and examine Lopez’s past, there remained more questions than answers.

Around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Lopez, who had transferred to the base in February from Fort Bliss in El Paso and was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, started firing on soldiers in the area of the First Medical Brigade.

Two soldiers wounded in the shooting made the first call to 911, at 4:16 p.m. A chaplain shielded soldiers from the gunman and broke the window of a building to get them to safety. A female military police officer arrived four minutes after the 911 call, officials said. Lopez approached her and put his hands up, but then pulled out his weapon. She fired her weapon, and then he placed his gun to his head and fired, officials said. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Lopez had been taking medication for anxiety and depression, but Army leaders said Thursday that they had not considered him a potential threat.

Investigators said they were still trying to clarify a motive for the attack but were focusing on the fragile state of mind of Lopez.

Lopez, 34, a married father of four and Iraq War veteran, was given a full psychiatric evaluation last month and had been prescribed ‘‘a number of drugs,’’ including the sleep aid Ambien, according to Army Secretary John McHugh. But the Army psychiatrist who last saw Lopez found no ‘‘sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others,’’ McHugh told a Senate panel.

But Milley, Fort Hood’s commanding general, described Lopez’s health in more dire terms.

‘‘We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological conditions,’’ he said at a news conference. ‘‘We believe that is the fundamental, underlying causal factor.’’

General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, described Lopez as a very experienced soldier who had served for nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before enlisting in the active-duty Army in 2010.

While with the National Guard, Lopez served a one-year deployment in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. In 2011, after joining the Army full time, he served four months in Iraq and was one of the last US troops to come home at the end of the war.

Material from the Washington Post was used in this report.
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