Soldier’s ‘Courageous Act’ Remembered as Fort Hood Begins Healing
In a final heroic act, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson threw his body against the entryway of a door as a fellow soldier-turned-gunman blasted away in a terrifying rampage at Fort Hood.
Ferguson, 39, was fatally hit in the moment he became a human shield — a sacrifice remembered in a news conference Saturday.
Ferguson’s “courageous act of blocking the door with his own body prevented further bloodshed,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas.
Also killed in Wednesday’s shooting were Sgt. Timothy Owens, 37, and Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38. Sixteen others were wounded. Gunman Spc. Ivan Lopez died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, officials said.
Rep. Williams, along with Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, met some of the wounded soldiers Saturday, and commended them on their valor. Among the victims was Maj. Patrick Miller, who was shot in the stomach with Lopez’s .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
Miller had called 911 as he tended to his own wounds.
Slain Fort Hood counselor found his calling in Army
So, it was no surprise to residents in his home town of Effingham, Ill., to hear that Owens lost his life trying to calm the shooter in Wednesday’s Fort Hood killings.
“He was a brave man,” said Owens’s mother, Mary Muntean, 77, who said she learned that her son had been killed as he tried to talk with Ivan Lopez, who has been identified as the man who killed three people and injured 16 in the shooting on the Army post.
Muntean said she received a call at her Effingham home from her son’s wife, Billy Owens, on Wednesday evening telling her that he had been shot five times after trying to calm Lopez in a post parking lot. Military officials have not released the names of those killed or injured or confirmed reports of how the violence unfolded. But friends of Owens said the account provided by his family fits the man they knew.
The names of the victims of the shooting in Fort Hood began to come out on Thursday, released by relatives and by officials offering their condolences.
In Effingham, Ill., family members told The Associated Press that Army Sgt. Timothy Owens was one of the three soldiers killed Wednesday in a mass shooting by Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez. Sixteen others were wounded in the shooting. The Army has not released a list of the victims, pending notification of relatives.
The mother of Sergeant Owens, Mary Muntean, 77, of Effingham, told The Associated Press that she had learned of her son’s death in a telephone call with her daughter-in-law.
Unable to reach her son, she called his wife, Billie Owens, who first said he was in the hospital. Before long, Sergeant Owens’s wife called back, and Mrs. Muntean had her worst fears confirmed. “She said, ‘Mom, I want to tell you how sorry I am. Tim’s gone,’ ” Mrs. Muntean said, according to The A.P. “I broke down.”
Sergeant Owens dropped out of high school in 1995. But his mother said he earned his high school equivalency after joining the Army in 2004.
A friend and former roommate, Paul Eatherton, said Sergeant Owens, whose family moved back to Effingham from Missouri in the mid-1990s, worked at Pizza Hut and studied tae kwon do at a local gym. Mr. Eatherton, a martial arts instructor at the time, said Sergeant Owens got his black belt and started teaching at a gym in Effingham.
“He was the best student I’d ever seen or known,” Mr. Eatherton said. “We’d go to tournaments, and he’d bring first places home every time.”
He said Sergeant Owens, who was in his mid-30s, had recently signed up for another six years in the Army. “I think he was going to be a lifer,” he said. He said he had not talked to Sergeant Owens for several months, but when he heard news of the shooting, he texted him immediately. He got no reply. “That really worried me,” he said.
The commander of Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, said in an afternoon news conference, that nine of the 16 people wounded in the attack were taken to Scott & White Memorial Hospital in nearby Temple, Tex., for treatment. Three were upgraded to serious condition on Thursday. Hospital officials said doctors had operated on two patients, a man and a woman, who had been shot in the abdomen and neck. The third person had an abdominal wound. The other victims taken there were discharged.
Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez had seen a military psychiatrist as recently as last month. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and had been prescribed Ambien to help him sleep. He had come back from a four-month deployment to Iraq in 2011 and told superiors he had suffered a traumatic head injury there. But military officials said he had never seen combat, and there was no record of any combat-related injury. He was being evaluated for possible post-traumatic stress disorder.
Still, military officials said, they had seen nothing to indicate that Specialist Lopez, 34 — who killed three people and himself and wounded 16 others on Wednesday in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Tex. — was violent or suicidal.
“He had a clean record,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Thursday morning in testimony before a Senate panel in Washington. “No outstanding bad marks for any kinds of major misbehaviors that we’re yet aware of.”
Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Fort Hood commander, said Thursday at a news conference that there were “very strong indications” that there had been a “verbal altercation” between Specialist Lopez and one or more other soldiers in the minutes before the shooting started, but the authorities were still investigating what role, if any, that played in the attack.
“We have very strong evidence looking into his medical history that indicated an unstable psychiatric condition,” General Milley said.
Friends from his hometown in Puerto Rico said that Specialist Lopez was angry with the Army when he returned home for his mother’s funeral in November. Ismael Gonzalez, a former schoolmate who had kept in contact with Specialist Lopez on Facebook, said the soldier was very upset that he had initially been given only 24 hours to attend the funeral.
In addition, Mr. Gonzalez said, Specialist Lopez, who was earning $28,000 a year, told him that he was “in a precarious economic situation” trying to support his family in Texas and two children in Puerto Rico from his first marriage. And he was angry that the Army would not allow him to move his family onto the base at Fort Hood, Mr. Gonzalez said.
None of this had found its way into Specialist Lopez’s official record, though.
“This was an experienced soldier,” said Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff. “He spent actually nine years in the Puerto Rico National Guard before coming on active duty, so he’s a very experienced soldier.”
Those who knew Specialist Lopez as a young man, obsessed with the high school band, were even more stunned to learn what he was suspected of doing.
“I cannot believe you are speaking about the same guy,” said Sgt. Maj. Nelson Bigas, one of Specialist Lopez’s superiors in the National Guard. “He was the most responsible, obedient, humble person, and one of the most skillful guys on the line.”
For a year beginning in 2006, Specialist Lopez was deployed with his guard unit on the Sinai Peninsula, watching the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
But, the authorities say, it was Specialist Lopez who went into Guns Galore in Killeen, Tex., near Fort Hood on March 1 and bought the .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol that was used in the shootings on Wednesday.
It was the same gun store where Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army major, had bought at least one of the weapons used in a 2009 mass shooting on the base.
So information was emerging slowly on Thursday about Mr. Lopez. He was raised in the small fishing village of Guayanilla on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, about an hour and a half from San Juan. While there, he attended the School of Asunción Rodríguez de Sala, where he was active in the band and an enthusiastic drummer.
In 1999, he joined the National Guard, where he also played in the band. Later, he joined the Puerto Rico Police Department and became a member of its band. Officials said his record with the force was clean, with no disciplinary or behavioral problems.
His main job for the police was visiting schools and hospitals around Puerto Rico to give demonstrations on his percussion instruments. After he finished, other police officers would speak to the students or patients about gun violence, drugs and bullying, said Jeann Correa, the director of the unit for which he worked. His pay was $2,400 a month.
In 2010, getting a special leave from the police force, he shifted into the Army as a private first class and was quickly promoted to specialist and stationed with the First Armored Division at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Tex. He was an infantryman there but his military record shows that in November, because of a medical condition identified as plantar fasciitis, a painful foot ailment, he moved to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he trained to become a truck driver. In February, he was posted to Fort Hood in that capacity.