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Sunday 31 August 2014

US soldier in deadly shooting spree had mental health issues

David Usborne

Published 04/04/2014 | 02:30

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U.S. flags are pictured in front of the Central Christian Church in Killeen, Texas April 3, 2014, where the Fort Hood Army Base is located. The commander of the base on Thursday identified the soldier suspected of shooting dead three people and wounding 16 on Wednesday as Ivan Lopez, 34, and said he was originally from Puerto Rico. REUTERS/Erich Schlegel (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW MILITARY)
U.S. flags are pictured in front of the Central Christian Church in Killeen, Texas April 3, 2014, where the Fort Hood Army Base is located.

One day after a US Army specialist killed three people and then himself at Fort Hood, Texas, President Barack Obama's team at the Pentagon was trying to understand what motivated the fatal rampage – the second on the base in five years.

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Investigators appeared to be focusing first on the mental health of gunman Ivan Lopez (34), who lived off site with his family but entered the base with a concealed weapon.

Officials saw no early evidence to tie terrorism to the incident which also left 16 wounded, three of whom remained in a critical condition last night.

Officials conceded yesterday that Lopez, who had served one four-month tour in Iraq in 2011 but not in a combat role, had been under ongoing assessment for psychiatric issues including depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.

Nothing had been detected to suggest a tendency towards violence or suicide, they said.

He was believed to have been prescribed medicines including the sleeping aid Ambien.

The tragedy reverberated across a country which still has painful memories of 2009 when army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire in a pre-deployment centre, killing 13 fellow service members. He was sentenced to death at a military trial.

Convicted and sentenced to death at a trial on the base last year, he admitted to having committed a premeditated jihad against US soldiers bound for Afghanistan.

The Pentagon promised sweeping reforms for security at military installations in the US in the wake of the Hasan shooting and again after the rampage last September at the Navy Yards in Washington DC which left 12 people dead.

Measures were to include a greater focus on monitoring the mental condition of service personnel, particularly those returning from combat zones, and tougher background checks on contract workers with access to bases.

The latest incident marks the third time in six months that US military bases have been struck by deadly violence.

Just last month a civilian fatally shot a sailor aboard a US Navy ship at a naval base in Virginia. Frustration with the limits of what can be done will be highlighted by this latest tragedy.

CLUES

"Nearly five years after the Nidal Hasan shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, it is clear that we must do far more to ensure that our troops are safe when they are at home on base," Republican Congressman Thomas Rooney, a former Army lawyer who was based at Fort Hood, said.

"We must thoroughly investigate what happened so that we can take whatever action is necessary to prevent something like this from ever occurring again."

With Lopez, there are seemingly few clues beyond his psychiatric struggles.

"He had a clean record in terms of his behaviour – no outstanding bad marks for any kinds of major misbehaviours that we are yet aware of," Army Secretary John McHugh testified before Congress yesterday.

While Lopez had self-reported a traumatic brain injury after his Iran tour, there was no record of his ever having been wounded.

Mr McHugh confirmed that the killer's record shows "no involvement with extremist organisations".

Investigators were last night interviewing witnesses in a bid to ascertain whether an argument between Lopez and others might have triggered the shootings.

Armed with a .45 calibre handgun which he had reportedly purchased legally, he seemingly opened fire in a building, then fled to his car from where he shot more rounds and finally entered a second building.

When confronted by a female military police officer, he pulled his gun from under his jacket and shot himself in the head. (© Independent News Service)

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