Bullets permeated the atmosphere of the Soldier Readiness Center on the grounds of Fort Hood, Texas, the nation’s largest Army base a short distance from UMHB.
Inside, a gun-wielding man opened fire on unsuspecting soldiers while screaming in Arabic “Alahu Akbar,” translated, “God is Great.”
The 2009 event that garnered years of international media coverage became the deadliest mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history, killing 13 adults including a pregnant mother. The baby did not survive. A jury convicted the perpetrator, Nidal Hasan, and sentenced him to death Aug. 28.
Next door to the shooting that day in 2009, then military police investigator Chris Collins, a former UMHB student, was participating in a graduation ceremony with his wife and children in the audience.
When they heard the chaos, they initially thought it was a drill of some kind. But when the gun fire continued, they knew they were wrong.
“It wasn’t until several more shots were fired before everyone made their way in the building,” Collins said. “I was looking for my family when a soldier stumbled in explaining someone was dressed in a military uniform and shooting soldiers.”
He and his wife rushed into harm’s way along with others to aid the wounded.
Though Collins has since moved to California, he has followed the Hasan prosecution process. He’s glad for the outcome, but not thrilled with the wait.
“I was happy justice was finally given. I don’t think I can say I’m happy about the time it took for it to happen,” he said.
Like Collins, lawyer Steve Walden, who has experience with military cases and practices at the Carlson Law Firm in Killeen, paid close attention to the trial proceedings. He was not impressed with the defense.
Hasan represented himself and basically only spoke during his opening argument.
Walden expressed frustration with the federal government’s decision to call the incident workplace violence and not domestic terrorism.
The game of semantics has the families of the victims as well as countless Texans outraged. They, like Walden, argue that Hasan was on an ideological mission because of what he shouted in Arabic during the brutal attack.
“I think it’s pretty clear that was an act of terrorism,” Walden said. “Based on a lot of his writings that were released during the course of the trial, the fact he claims himself to be a modern day jihadist. It was for terrorism … to send a religious political message.”
Collins is still frustrated by the controversial move of the federal government. He also acknowledges that better treatment for victims and their families hangs in the balance.
“I think politics played a factor in the workplace violence explanation. I felt it was domestic terrorism and still feel it was. The victims would benefit greatly if the two swapped,” he said.
Dr. Janet Adamski, a political science professor at UMHB, understands the opposite side’s argument. Proponents of that viewpoint counter that if the attack would have been deemed terrorism, Hasan would have been considered guilty by the military court before the verdict, obscuring American due process of law.
Adamski said, “Here, the argument … is that by calling the Fort Hood shootings a terrorist act and Hasan a terrorist, the same institution (the U.S. government) that would then try him for that action would be projecting its conclusion of guilt prior to the trial and decision.”
The opposition is not giving up easily, however.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. representatives Roger Williams, R-Austin, and John Carter, R-Round Rock, spoke at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center about a piece of legislation that would classify the 2009 attack as terrorism.
Cornyn explained the bill would allow military victims to receive Purple Hearts and the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom to the civilians who died. The Killeen Daily Herald reported that rehabilitation pay and a generous life insurance policy would be given to those affected.
The senator issued a statement Aug. 23.
“The victims and families have had to wait for far too long for today’s decision, but I hope they can take some relief in today’s outcome as they and the entire Fort Hood community continue to grieve . The heroes who put themselves in harm’s way on that fateful day deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice whether overseas or at home.”