KILLEEN, Texas — Five years after a similar visit, President Obama was back Wednesday on the same field in front of the same building on the same Army post in the same state, with some of the same faces again grieving for soldiers killed in an act of senseless violence.
For president and mourners alike, the outdoor service for the victims of last week’s military base rampage at Fort Hood proved a haunting repeat of the first mass shooting on Obama’s watch, in fall 2009. The casualty toll was lighter this time and the apparent motives different, but the anguish was no less powerful.
“To the men and women of Fort Hood,” a somber Obama said, “part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before. 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. But we do know this. We must honor their lives not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
While it was still being determined why a soldier shot three of his comrades and then himself, Obama vowed to do more to address mental illness among veterans.
“Today, four American soldiers are gone; four Army families are devastated,” he said. “As commander in chief, I’m determined 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 that have the courage to seek help.”
Arrayed in front of the president were three helmets mounted on rifles, three sets of boots, and three photographs, one for each of those shot to death by Specialist Ivan A. Lopez on April 2, just as there were 13 such sets five years ago. And just as he did in November 2009, after Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting spree, Obama paid homage to the courage of a generation of men and women who signed up to protect their country only to lose their lives at home.
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, the president visited privately with the wounded and families of the slain before addressing a crowd of thousands outside the headquarters of III Corps here on the nation’s largest Army post.
The service came seven days after Lopez killed three soldiers and wounded 16 others before taking his own life, following an argument he had with soldiers from his unit about their handling of his request for leave.
In the span of a little more than eight minutes, Lopez, 34, fired at least 35 rounds at soldiers in a two-block area, using a .45-caliber handgun he bought in March, officials said.
Investigators have not publicly established a clear motive, but unlike Hasan, who said he was trying to protect “my Muslim brothers” from soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, Army officials said Lopez appeared to be set off by his dispute over the leave request.
Lopez, who had served four months in Iraq in 2011, had a number of mental health issues. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and had been prescribed Ambien, a sleep aid. He was being evaluated for possible post-traumatic stress disorder, officials said.