It was a graduation he will never forget.
While waiting for pomp and circumstance outside Fort Hood’s Howze Theater, former Army staff sergeant and now UMHB junior communication major Chris Collins stood in his gown ready to receive his associate’s degree. Instead he was met by shouts about a shooter in the area and the crack of gunshots.
It was Nov. 5, 2009, and Maj. Nidal Hasan was on a shooting rampage, eventually killing 13 and wounding 32.
“One of the graduates screamed as bullets zipped past him,” Collins said.
Once inside the theater, the graduates heard more shots, and then a wounded warrant officer stumbled in.
Immediate shouts of “We need help” and “Is there a medic inside?” filled the air.
Although Collins was most focused on helping the man, he does recall disturbing noises.
“I remember a lot of talking, screaming and babies crying in the background,” he said.
The wounded soldier kept telling the graduates to leave him and go help others. However, Collins realized the amount of blood was significant and immediately put pressure on the wound.
“We used several T-shirts given by soldiers to stop the bleeding,” he said.
Collins’ first priority was getting the man to the hospital. As he and the wounded man stepped outside, Collins heard Hasan shooting at military police in the area.
He managed to get the wounded man to the hospital, the first to arrive.
The warrant officer had been injured when Hasan shot through a car he was hiding behind.
Collins said soon afterward more injured people arrived.
“Wave after wave of vehicles with different soldiers bleeding” were brought to the hospital for treatment where Collins then stayed to help victims inside.
His wife Natasha Collins was at the Fort Hood graduation and remembers raising her hand when an announcement over the loud speaker filled the theater asking for those in the medical field.
Natasha was a sergeant first class in aviation for operations before being honorably discharged in 2010 and has training from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Course at Central Texas College.
Natasha was quickly directed to wounded soldiers in the Soldier Readiness Center.
“I could no longer run in my heels, so I took those off and threw them to the side of the building and ran into the second building,” she said.
Natasha said the reality of the situation quickly set in.
“While stepping over bodies of soldiers and a civilian whose face had been covered, it hit me. This s— is real,” she said.
Natasha saw one wounded soldier she will never forget.
“He had been shot a number of times. … We were able to start administering first aid behind a pickup truck parked behind the building. He is still alive, but he will have to live with the damage that was done for the rest of his life,” she said.
Like her husband, Natasha originally thought the shots were part of a training exercise. Once she knew the truth, she was angry.
“I could not believe after everything we went through in Iraq and Afghanistan that we had to endure this on our homeland .… Here is where we are supposed to feel safe. I felt as though (Hasan) was a traitor to us. We were his fellow brothers and sisters in arms, and he brought harm upon us,” she said.
Natasha’s training helped her go into survival mode, allowing her to assist in saving lives.
Like many others, Chris was under the impression that there were multiple shooters on post.
“It was kind of like a lot of mixed thoughts, but it was a surreal type moment. You couldn’t believe it was happening,” he said.
Collins’ mother and son were also at the theater at the time of the shooting. His mother was affected the most.
“(She) had just signed up to work for the USO on post .… To this day, she won’t step foot on post,” he said.
There is one particular moment Collins said he will never forget.
“When I was standing out waiting on another vehicle or ambulance, there was a girl (Francheska Velez) that was pregnant. Soldiers were trying to do CPR, and the doctor came over and said she’s gone, and they covered her up.”
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
The Article 32 hearing for Hasan lasted eight days with 56 witnesses and ended Oct. 21. The hearing is adjourned until Nov. 15 when defense lawyers will present evidence and witnesses.
Almost a year has passed since that horrific day, and Natasha said this is the first time she has ever discussed the events from her point of view.
She said, “I find myself thinking about it quite often and seeing images flash through my mind. I read about the trial and see what is posted by the news on the television. I am still angry.”