Violence revisits Fort Hood Army base

COMMENTARY BY
JESSICA NICKEL

The Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, TX has once again become the site of a tragedy. Spc. Ivan Lopez went on a shooting spree throughout the Army base April 2, killing three, wounding 16 and then killing himself. This event comes five years after Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist turned radical Muslim, committed an act of terror on the very same base, killing 13 people.

Lopez served a four-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2011. He returned to the U.S. and was stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas before being transferred to Fort Hood in February. On the day of the shooting, Lopez entered the personnel office on base to pick up a request form for personal leave. Lopez was denied the form by Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook and told to come back later. This, Army officials report, is what triggered Lopez to return to the office some time later and shoot Westbrook before taking his rampage out into the open. Army Sgt. Timothy Owens, Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney Rodriguez and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson were all killed. Lopez ended the event by taking his own life.

Up until now, Lopez had no previous history of violence or behavioral issues. He did, however, have a history of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, for which he was receiving treatment and taking antidepressants. Though it has not been confirmed by the Army, Lopez had reported sustaining a traumatic brain injury during his tour in Iraq. Early speculation suggested that Lopez’s actions may have been connected to post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) that resulted from his tour. According to Fox News, “military officials had expressed skepticism that his four-month tour in Iraq as that war wound down could have caused PTSD.”

Personally, I think that this is an unfair and insensitive comment. The Mayo Clinic’s definition of PTSD is that it is “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.” Symptoms typically present themselves within a few months of the event but, in rare cases, can take years to fully manifest. The war may not have been at the height of brutality when Lopez was stationed in Iraq, but I think that it is fair to say that spending four months in a war-torn, foreign country, living with the anticipation that every day you could be attacked by snipers or killed by a roadside bomb, qualifies as being a “terrifying event.” I do not think that the Army is justified in deciding whether or not Lopez developed PTSD as a result of his tour.

I am by no means attempting to validate the actions of Lopez; however, I am trying to observe the event from the perspective of an individual with mental illness. Only one person truly knows why this tragedy occurred, and he is not here to speak for himself. Therefore, it is necessary to present the case from all sides. It is entirely possible that Lopez’s medications were no longer working properly. His request for leave was because a relative died, and perhaps the denial of the form was just the last straw. The Army seems to think that the argument was the inciting factor, and it very well may have been. While Lopez’s actions were certainly criminal in nature, I believe that they were the result of an ill individual who simply lost control and not a murderer who set out for bloodshed.

Contact the writer:
jessica.nickel@scranton.edu

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