One year after the horrific 2009 attack at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Center, 56 witnesses testified in the military pretrial hearing against Nidal Malik Hasan. More than two dozen of the witnesses were soldiers. Two of the soldiers were members of the team that Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of gunning down 13 people and wounding 32, had been scheduled to deploy with to Afghanistan.
The Article 32 pretrial hearing, described as similar to a civilian court’s grand jury or evidentiary hearing, was the first time that witnesses to the killing spree came face-to-face with Hasan. The survivors spoke about seeing and hearing their fellow soldiers dying around them, and about knowing that the brutality of war had struck at home. Their recollections — tense, withering, heart-sore — contrasted with the defendant’s detached but intently observant presence.
“I laid absolutely [as] still as I could because he was shooting everything that moved,” said Specialist Megan Martin. “I couldn’t stop watching. It was a nightmare that reoccurs every day.” Captain Melissa Kale wept as she recalled her futile efforts to pull her friend, Sergeant Amy Krueger, with her. “She didn’t move. I had to leave her there,” Kale said. Martin and Kale testified via video link from Afghanistan, where they had deployed as scheduled just weeks after the attack.
Specialist Jonathan Sims had been chatting with a young soldier about her pregnancy when the first shots were fired. He remembered her screaming, “My baby! My baby!” The soldier, Private Francheska Velez, was killed.
The first victim, Sargeant Alonzo Lunsford, shut his eyes when he saw the weapon’s laser light trained on him. A bullet hit his head. He made it outside, but only after he’d been shot four more times. In the confusion, he heard a woman scream about Hasan, “He’s one of ours! He’s one of ours!”
Hasan was eventually stopped by two Department of the Army Civilian Police officers, Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd. Hasan shot Munley and was advancing on her when Todd shot him several times. “I rushed him. I kicked the weapon, placed him in hand irons,” Todd said.
Through it all, Hasan, who is now paralyzed below the waist, remained impassive. A Muslim who had become radicalized and who resented the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hasan allegedly had said “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) as he shot his fellow soldiers.
A Pentagon investigation in the wake of the tragedy found that Hasan had ascended smoothly through the military ranks as a psychiatrist, despite displaying signs of psychological instability.
Although Fort Hood is known for having one of the most robust mental health programs in the Army, the psychological well-being of its soldiers continued to be in the spotlight this past year. A rash of apparent suicides claimed the lives of 20 soldiers (none of whom had any connection with Hasan’s alleged rampage). A range of psychological issues plague troops, including post-traumatic stress disorder, predeployment anxiety, and strained relationships. Military officials are making an increased effort to provide counseling services for troubled service members, but the system is overwhelmed.
Hasan’s pretrial hearing had been delayed twice, the second time to resume after November 5, the first anniversary of the massacre. On that day, a memorial to the victims was unveiled at Fort Hood: a 6-foot-tall granite slab with 13 names carved into it, along with the words, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” During the ceremony, more than 50 soldiers and civilians received awards for actions that “went above and beyond the call of duty” that day. It was the first time that many of the victims’ relatives were able to meet each other, and many cried and embraced, sharing their grief.