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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Killer 'showed no sign of violence'

Published 03/04/2014 | 00:37

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Lieutenant General Mark Milley, commanding general of Fort Hood, speaks to the media outside the base (AP)
Lucy Hamlin and her husband wait for permission to re-enter the Fort Hood military base, where they live, following a shooting. (AP)
Four people including the gunman have been killed in a shooting at the US Army's Fort Hood base in Texas (AP)

The soldier who killed three people before committing suicide in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were murdered in 2009 had shown no recent risks of violence, authorities said today.

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The gunman, identified as Ivan Lopez by Texas Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opened fire at Fort Hood yesterday afternoon. More than a dozen other people were injured.

Military officials declined to formally identify the attacker, an enlisted soldier with the rank of specialist, by name until his family members had been officially notified.

But Army Secretary John McHugh said the soldier saw no combat during a four-month deployment to Iraq as a truck driver from August to December 2011. A review of his service record showed no Purple Heart, which indicates he was never wounded.

The soldier saw a psychiatrist last month and showed no "sign of any likely violence either to himself or others", Mr McHugh said. His record shows "no involvement with extremist organisations of any kind".

"We're not making any assumptions by that. We're going to keep an open mind and an open investigation. We will go where the facts lead us. And possible extremist involvement is still being looked at very, very carefully. He had a clean record in terms of his behaviour," Mr McHugh added.

Within hours of yesterday's shooting, investigators started looking into whether the soldier had lingering psychological trauma from his time in Iraq. Fort Hood's senior officer, Lieutenant General Mark Milley, said the gunman had sought help for depression, anxiety and other problems, and was taking medication.

Among the possibilities investigators are exploring is whether a fight or argument on the base triggered the attack.

"We have to find all those witnesses, the witnesses to every one of those shootings, and find out what his actions were, and what was said to the victims," a federal law enforcement official said hours afterwards.

Investigators searched the soldier's home today and questioned his wife, said Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug.

Lopez apparently walked into a building yesterday afternoon and began firing a .45-calibre semi-automatic pistol. He then got into a vehicle and continued firing before entering another building, but he was eventually confronted by military police in a car park, according to Lt Gen Milley, senior officer on the base.

As he came within 20ft (6m) of an officer, the gunman put his hands up but then reached under his jacket and pulled out his gun. The officer drew her own weapon, and the suspect put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger a final time, Lt Gen Milley said.

Mr McHugh said the soldier, a Puerto Rico native, joined the island's National Guard in 1999 and served on a year-long peacekeeping mission in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in the mid-2000s. He then enlisted with the Army in 2008, Mr McHugh said.

His weapon was purchased locally recently and was not registered to be on the base, Lt Gen Milley said.

Suzie Miller, a 71-year-old retired property manager who lived in the same apartment complex as Lopez near Fort Hood, said few in the area knew him and his wife well because they had only moved in a few weeks ago.

"I'd see him in his uniform heading out to the car every morning," Ms Miller said. "He was friendly to me and a lot of us around here."

Those injured yesterday were taken to the base hospital and other local hospitals. At least three patients were reported to be in a critical condition today, but were expected to survive.

The shootings immediately revived memories of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, the deadliest attack on a domestic military installation in US history. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 others injured.

Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was convicted last year over that massacre. According to trial testimony, he walked into a crowded building, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" - Arabic for "God is great!" - and opened fire. The rampage ended when Hasan was shot in the back by base police officers.

Hasan, now paralysed from the waist down, is on Death Row at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He has said he acted to protect Islamic insurgents abroad from American aggression.

After that shooting, the military tightened base security nationwide. That included issuing security personnel with long-barrelled weapons, adding an insider-attack scenario to their training, and strengthening ties to local law enforcement. The military also joined an FBI intelligence-sharing programme aimed at identifying terror threats.

In September, a former navy man opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, leaving 13 people dead, including the gunman. After that shooting, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Pentagon to review security at all US defence installations worldwide and examine the granting of security clearances that allow access to them.

Press Association

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