1 year after rampage, Fort Hood still healing

By ANGELA K. BROWN Associated Press

FORT HOOD, Texas — For the past year, several wreaths and crosses along a fence at Fort Hood have been the only outward reminders of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base.

Army combat uniforms hide most scars marring the bodies of more than two dozen soldiers wounded that day at a medical building where troops were preparing to deploy. And those who work near the now-shuttered building on the Texas Army post rarely mention what happened there on Nov. 5, 2009, when a gunman suddenly started shooting and killed 13 people.

"Nobody talks about it. It's too much to handle," said Staff Sgt. Jeannette Juroff, who can see the medical building's roof from her desk. "I'll have my moments, and I'll catch myself staring at it. Sometimes a tear will come out of my eye, and I don't even realize it."

On Friday — one year after the shooting — Fort Hood will unveil a 6-foot-tall stone memorial engraved with the 13 victims' names after an awards ceremony honoring more than 50 soldiers and civilians whose actions that day "went above and beyond the call of duty."

Family members of those killed will be there, as will the soldiers, police officers and emergency personnel who helped save lives that day. For many, it will be the first time since the aftermath of the attack that they have come together to remember what happened.

One year ago, a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform stood near the building's front door, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — which means "God is great!" in Arabic — and opened fire in a crowded waiting area where soldiers were getting vaccines and other tests, witnesses say.

He fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, shooting at soldiers hiding under desks and those fleeing the building, according to witnesses. When it was over, 13 people were killed. Dozens were wounded. Investigators found 146 shell casings on the floor, another 68 outside the building — and 177 unused rounds in the gunman's pockets after he was shot by civilian officers.

Some victims' relatives attended a hearing earlier this month for the suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist and American-born Muslim who apparently did not want to deploy to Afghanistan the following month. Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down when he was shot that day, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. His Article 32 hearing to determine if there's enough evidence to send him to trial will resume later this month.

Some of the wounded soldiers later deployed with shrapnel left in their bodies or haunted by nightmares. Others recovered and have returned to duty as best they can, despite being told they'll never run again or have full use of their arms.

"There's no other treatment that can be done ... (but) my focus is to heal, to continue to serve," Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford Jr., who was shot five times and lost most vision in his left eye, testified last month at the hearing.

The rampage spurred numerous changes, including a new broad policy governing how privately owned guns can be carried or stored at military installations.

Other changes came in the wake of government investigations that uncovered a range of problems — from critical security lapses to failures by some staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where Hasan was student, internist and psychiatric resident.

The Pentagon said it is taking new steps to increase security and surveillance programs at its bases, and will join an FBI intelligence-sharing program aimed at identifying future terror threats. That came after revelations that a local FBI-run terrorism task force had learned months before the attack of Hasan's e-mail contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric thought to be hiding in the mountains in Yemen who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops, but the information was not adequately shared with the Pentagon.

After the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet by a Nigerian whom al-Awlaki may have helped recruit for al-Qaida in Yemen, the U.S. put the cleric on a list of militants the CIA is authorized to capture or kill.

The Defense Department's final report on the Fort Hood shootings said military supervisors must have access to soldiers' personnel records and be aware of signs of potential workplace violence.

One year after the shootings, the victims' families are in different stages of grief.

Strangers a year ago, the group — which includes some wounded soldiers and their relatives, emergency personnel and others who helped that day — now call themselves the "Nov. 5 family." They chat online in a private chat room, share information about military benefits and counseling services, and discuss the latest developments in the case against Hasan.

Some will meet each other Friday in person for the first time.

"This is such a high-profile case, a murder on a U.S. Army post, and nobody but the 13 families knows how that feels," said Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother Spc. Jason Dean "J.D." Hunt was killed that day. "I think about him and miss him every day. I'm not any less proud of him than if he was killed in action, because he was serving his country that day, and I'm in the same amount of grief because he's gone."

Joleen Cahill said her faith and support from friends and the other victims' families have helped her cope with the loss of her husband, Michael Grant Cahill. The 62-year-old physician assistant, who worked in the building, was fatally shot when he tried to hit Hasan with a chair, several witnesses said.

It was her idea to place wreaths on the fence that now surrounds the shooting site, because, "when I would drive by it, I would see the violence, and there was nothing to negate the violence in that area. I wanted to bring some hope and perhaps a little bit of peace."