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The U.S. Army is dispatching dozens of trauma and grief counselors and military chaplains to Fort Hood in Texas, where a gunman killed 13 people and wounded 30 in a shooting rampage on Thursday. The alleged shooter was an Army officer, a psychiatrist and a Muslim, but officials, including President Barack Obama, are cautioning against jumping to conclusions about the motive for the shooting.
The President met with the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other senior officials Friday morning to discuss the case. Then he stepped into the White House Rose Garden, just outside his office, to again express condolences to the families of those killed in the attack, and to urge people to wait for the results of the investigation. "We don't know all the answers yet and I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts. What we do know is that there are families, friends and an entire nation grieving right now for the valiant men and women who came under attack yesterday, in one of the worst mass shootings ever to take place on an American military base," he said.
The president ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff as what he called "a modest tribute" to people who he said lost their lives as they were preparing to risk their lives for their country. "We honor their service. We stand in awe of their sacrifice. And we pray for the safety of those who fight and for the families of those who have fallen," he said.
The president also promised continuing updates as the investigation proceeds.
At Ft. Hood Friday, officials say investigators continued to interview people and use scientific techniques to try to piece together the exact series of events when Major Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire with two handguns at a center where soldiers were preparing for deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan. Hasan, who is 39 years old, is recovering from four gunshot wounds inflicted by a female civilian police officer.
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Counselors and medical personnel also continued to work with the wounded, and with the families and friends of the dead.
The top officer in the Army, General George Casey, visited Ft. Hood and had this emotional response to the shootings. "I'll tell you candidly, this was a kick in the gut, not only for the Ft. Hood community but also for our entire army," he said.
General Casey said he ordered commanders throughout the world to review their security procedures, and also to take steps to avoid a potential backlash against Muslim soldiers. "One of the reasons I told our leaders to keep their people informed and not rush to judgment or speculate until the investigation comes out is I do worry slightly about a potential backlash, and we have to be all concerned about that," he said.
General Casey also said he spoke to soldiers at Ft. Hood who took heroic actions to help save the wounded on Thursday, including some soldiers who were wounded themselves, one who took four injured comrades to a hospital in his pickup truck and several who ran to the scene from a nearby ceremony. "I heard stories about medics who were sitting in a graduation in the building next door hearing the gunfire and running to the sounds of the guns because they knew there would be wounded, in their caps and gowns," he said.
Thursday's incident reminded many people of a shooting in Baghdad in May, in which a soldier killed five people at a mental health clinic. General Casey acknowledged that repeated deployments to combat zones in recent years have strained the U.S. Army, but he said it would be wrong to conclude from these incidents that the Army is 'broken.' He noted the army has grown by 70,000 in the last five years. In addition, it has numerous programs designed to help soldiers deal with combat-related stress.
Here at the Pentagon, the chief Army spokesman, Major General Kevin Bergner, confirmed that the alleged gunman, Major Hasan, has never been deployed, but had been informed he would soon be sent to one of the war zones. "He was in a 'deployment window,' and was part of a request for forces," he said.
General Bergner could not comment on reports that Major Hasan, who is a Muslim, has made some Internet postings that were supportive of suicide bombers, but he said that is part of the joint Army and civilian investigation. Hasan is a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma counseling, and he has been working with wounded and traumatized troops returning from the wars since he began his psychiatric training in 2003. The Army also has programs to support caregivers like Major Hasan who deal with the trauma of others every day.
Some friends have told reporters Hasan has expressed opposition to the wars and was concerned about his own pending deployment. There are also reports that he complained of being teased by other soldiers due to his Muslim faith, and wanted to get out of the Army, and that he received at least one less than excellent performance evaluation. But Hasan, who has been in the army for 12 years, most of that time in medical training, was promoted to major just six months ago.