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Mental health issues dot shooter’s history

Fort Hood general says unstable past explains rampage

Associated Press
Roses for shooting victims are seen Thursday at the feet of soldiers near Fort Hood’s main gate.

The soldier who went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, had a history of mental illness and 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 Spec. Ivan Antonio Lopez, a 34-year-old military truck driver and Iraq veteran. Officials said he killed three fellow soldiers and took his own life Wednesday at one of the country’s largest military installations.

Lopez, a married father of four, 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.

Another Army leader 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,” Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the commanding general of Fort Hood, said at a news conference. “We believe that is the fundamental, underlying causal factor.”

Around the same time that Lopez visited the Army psychiatrist, he legally purchased the .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol that he used in the shooting, Army officials said. The soldier bought the firearm on March 1 from Guns Galore, a store in nearby Killeen, Texas, officials said. The shop is the same one that sold a semi-automatic pistol to Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist and al-Qaida sympathizer who was carried out a mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, killing 13 people.

Under Army regulations, soldiers can keep personal firearms but are prohibited from bringing them onto military bases unless the weapons are registered. Army officials said Lopez had not registered his new pistol at Fort Hood.

Practically speaking, they acknowledged, there was little they could have done to prevent him from sneaking a weapon onto the sprawling Army post, where more than 50,000 people work each day. Although military police carry out random security checks, requiring everyone to pass through metal detectors would be “frankly untenable,” said Army Col. Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Fort Hood officials said Lopez opened fire about 4 p.m. local time. In the space of a few minutes, he shot soldiers in two buildings and kept shooting while in a moving vehicle. In addition to killing three soldiers, he wounded 16 others, three of them critically.

He was finally confronted by a female military police officer. Lopez put his arms up at first but then reached for his pistol. The police officer responded with gunfire as Lopez put the pistol to his head, killing himself, Army officials said.

Milley, the Fort Hood commander, said there was no indication that Lopez had come onto the base to hunt down specific targets. But he said investigators think that the truck driver had gotten into a verbal altercation that may have prompted him to start shooting. “We’re looking into that, trying to determine what the trigger event was,” Milley said, adding that investigators were also examining whether Lopez had financial or marital problems.

Milley said he had no details about reports that Lopez was upset at having had little time to attend his mother’s funeral last year. Milley also said it was “too early to tell” whether Lopez had received sufficient psychiatric help.

Gen. 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 U.S. troops to come home at the end of the war.

McHugh, the Army secretary, told lawmakers that Lopez had “a clean record” in terms of conduct. He said Lopez’s personnel file had “no outstanding bad marks for any kinds of major misbehaviors that we’re yet aware of.”

The Army released a summary of Lopez’s service history, including awards and decorations, but did not provide detailed records or specific information about disciplinary proceedings. Army leaders said there was no record that Lopez had been wounded or injured in Iraq. But they said he had “self-reported” a possible traumatic brain injury from his wartime service. He had recently been undergoing an evaluation to determine whether he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Army officials said.