FORT HOOD, Texas – A military mental health doctor facing deployment overseas opened fire at the Fort Hood Army base on Thursday, setting off on a rampage that killed 11 other people and left 31 wounded. Authorities killed the gunman, and the violence was believed to be the worst mass shooting in history at a U.S. military base.
The shooting began around 1:30 p.m., when shots were fired at the base's Soldier Readiness Center, where soldiers who are about to be deployed or who are returning undergo medical screening, said Lt. Gen. Bob Cone at Fort Hood.
"It's a terrible tragedy. It's stunning," Cone said.
A law enforcement official identified the shooting suspect as Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Two other soldiers taken into custody following the deadly rampage were later released, the office of a Texas congressman said. A spokesman for Rep. John Carter says Fort Hood officials informed Carter's office of the release. Carter's congressional district includes the Army base.
Officials at Fort Hood did not immediately return calls seeking comment to confirm the report.
It was unclear what the motive was. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said the Army major was about to deploy overseas, though it was unclear if he was headed to Iraq or Afghanistan and when he was scheduled to leave. Hutchison said she was told about the upcoming deployment by generals based at Fort Hood.
Military officials say Hasan, 39, was a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for six years before being transferred to the Texas base in July. The officials, who had access to Hasan's military record, said he received a poor performance evaluation while at Walter Reed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because military records are confidential.
The Virginia-born soldier was single with no children. He graduated from Virginia Tech University, where he was a member of the ROTC and earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry in 1997. He received his medical degree from the military's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., in 2001. At Walter Reed, he did his internship, residency and a fellowship.
Officials were investigating whether Hasan was his birth name or if he may have changed his name, possibly as part of a conversion to Islam. However, they were not certain of his religion.
The Soldier Readiness Center holds hundreds of people and is one of the most populated parts of the base, said Steve Moore, a spokesman for III Corps at Fort Hood. Nearby there are barracks and a food center where there are fast food chains.
A graduation ceremony for soldiers who finished college courses while deployed was going on nearby at the time of the shooting, said Sgt. Rebekah Lampam, a Fort Hood spokeswoman.
Greg Schanepp, Carter's regional director in Texas, was at Fort Hood, said John Stone, a spokesman for Carter. Schanepp was at a graduation ceremony when a soldier who had been shot in the back came running toward him and alerted him of the shooting, Stone said. The soldier told Schanepp not to go in the direction of the shooter, he said.
The wounded were dispersed among hospitals in central Texas, Cone said.
Lisa Pfund of Random Lake, Wis., says her daughter, 19-year-old Amber Bahr, was shot in the stomach but was in stable condition. "We know nothing, just that she was shot in the belly," Pfund told The Associated Press. She couldn't provide more details and only spoke with emergency personnel.
Pfund said Bahr joined the reserves when she was 17 to earn money for school and loved being in the military even though none of her friends were interested in joining the Army.
A Fort Hood spokesman said he could not immediately confirm any identities of the injured.
"I ask that all of you keep these families and these individuals in your prayers today," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.
The shootings on the Texas military base stirred memories of other recent mass shootings in the United States, including 13 dead at a New York immigrant center in April, 10 killed during a gunman's rampage across Alabama in March and 32 killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Around the country, some bases stepped up security precautions, but no others were locked down.
"The bottom line for us is that we are increasing security at our gates because the threat hasn't yet been defined, and we're reminding our Marines to be vigilant in their areas of responsibility," said Capt. Rob Dolan, public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.
In Washington, President Barack Obama called the shooting "a horrific outburst of violence." He said it's a tragedy to lose a soldier overseas and even more horrifying when they come under fire at an Army base on American soil.
"We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident," the commander in chief said. "We are going to stay on this."
Covering 339 square miles, Fort Hood is the largest active duty armored post in the United States. Home to about 52,000 troops as of earlier this year, the sprawling base is located halfway between Austin and Waco.
Fort Hood officially opened on Sept. 18, 1942, and was named in honor of Gen. John Bell Hood.