KILLEEN, Texas — After the sudden death of his mother in November, Army Spc. Ivan Lopez was upset that officials at Fort Hood granted him less than two days to go home to Puerto Rico for her funeral.
Carmen Lopez’s death from a heart attack came just a month after that of his grandfather.
Months later, the 34-year-old musician, father and decorated soldier posted a chilling message on his Facebook page that he had been robbed, saying the devil had taken him and he was “full of hatred.”
Lopez opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, killing three fellow service members and wounding 16 others before turning the weapon on himself at Fort Hood on Wednesday.
As investigators searched for a motive, a Lopez family spokesman said Thursday that the deaths of his mother and grandfather hit him hard.
“He was extremely upset that he wasn’t able to spend more time with his mom,” family spokesman Glidden Lopez Torres said. Lopez arrived home five days after his mother’s death and couldn’t even stay two full days, he said. “In less than a month, he lost his grandfather and his mother. But we can’t confirm whether that had anything to do with what happened.”
In Fort Hood and on Capitol Hill, authorities Thursday gave new details of the shooting, the second at Fort Hood since 2009, when Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in the deadliest mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history.
Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said the first 911 call came at 4:16 p.m. Central time, from two wounded soldiers. Lopez, dressed in military fatigues, stalked the crowded base with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, he said, apparently shooting at random targets, sending fellow service members scurrying for cover.
Milley officially confirmed Lopez’s identity and said officials were investigating whether he had an argument with a fellow soldier that might have set off the bloodshed. “We do not have that definitively, but we do have strong indications of that,” Milley said at a news conference.
The initial shots came inside the 1st Medical Brigade Area, Milley said. Then Lopez got into a vehicle and went to a second building, where he continued shooting.
Milley cited examples of horror and heroism, including a base chaplain who shielded others and broke windows to help them escape.
A military police officer arrived four minutes after the 911 calls, he said. The gunman approached her, stopping about 20 feet away, and pulled the gun from his jacket, Milley said. As the officer opened fire, Lopez shot himself in the head, he said.
Although Milley refused to say whether the officer had hit Lopez, a witness who said he watched him die said he had been shot multiple times, in addition to the self-inflicted shot to the head.
Milley refused to release the officer’s identity but said, “She clearly performed her duty exceptionally well.”
Doctors said six of Lopez’s victims had been treated and released. Ten remain hospitalized.
Officials were scouring Lopez’s background for any medical, financial and marital issues that might have triggered the violence. “We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological conditions,” Milley said. “We’re going through all the records to make sure that is in fact correct.”
Lopez returned from a four-month tour in Iraq in 2011, and some time later complained of an unspecified brain injury, even though officials said he saw no combat.
He was being treated for depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. He’d been examined by a psychiatrist last month and was prescribed Ambien, among other drugs, and was undergoing evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder, Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
The soldier had a “clean record” that offered no signs to indicate he might hurt himself or others, and his background showed “no involvement with extremist organizations of any kind,” McHugh said.
According to military records released Thursday, Lopez served with the National Guard in Puerto Rico from 1999 to 2010, receiving nine medals for achievement and good behavior. He had been an infantryman at Fort Bliss, but was transferred to Fort Hood as a truck driver shortly before the shooting.
“From what we have seen and heard from people who talked to him, all indications were that he was a good soldier,” said Maj. Jamie Davis, deputy public affairs officer at the National Guard Bureau.
Lopez grew up in Guayanilla, a town on Puerto Rico’s southeastern coast, part of a family of musicians who were active Roman Catholics. Lopez played percussion, family spokesman Lopez Torres said.
“He was always a very calm person, extremely reserved but at the same time very happy,” Lopez Torres said, adding, “He came from a very happy family.” Lopez is survived by his father, a sister and two brothers, in addition to his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
He also has two children from a first marriage who live in Puerto Rico. In a Facebook interview, one of them, Nathalie Lopez, called him “an excellent father,” a loving, dedicated worker and fighter, sincere and intelligent. “In summary,” she said in Spanish, “the best father in the world.”
Lopez Torres confirmed that Lopez had posted an angry message on his Facebook page March 1, after Lopez’s home had been burglarized.
“I have just lost my inner peace, full of hatred, I think this time the devil will take me,” Lopez wrote. “I was robbed last night and I am sure it was 2 flacos (guys). Green light and finger ready. As easy as that.”
Also on March 1, Lopez bought his weapon at a Killeen store, Guns Galore — the same gun shop Hasan used in 2009. It was also the store patronized by an Army private who was convicted in a failed plot to stage a similar massacre in 2011, according to two federal law enforcement sources.
In that case, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo of Kentucky bought gunpowder, shotgun shells and a handgun. Guns Galore notified authorities, who arrested Abdo at a nearby motel where he was plotting to attack a restaurant popular with Fort Hood personnel.
An employee at Guns Galore said Thursday that the owner’s wife had talked to the FBI. The employee declined to say whether store workers noticed anything of concern about Lopez, who purchased his pistol legally. “It’s an ongoing investigation. We have been told to redirect everybody to the FBI,” the employee said.
Also Thursday, one of Lopez’s Killeen neighbors described his actions in the weeks before the shooting.
Kierstin Crachian, 20, who lives in the same rental complex, said she saw Lopez moving in a few weeks ago, carting his belonging from a U-Haul truck to his upstairs apartment.
On Monday, two days before the shooting, Lopez entered the nearby 7-Eleven where she works as a cashier, with a neighbor who he said had helped him move in. He withdrew about $40 from the ATM and paid the neighbor for his help, she said. Lopez seemed upbeat when she joked with him about paying his friend, she said.
“He smiled when I said he should have paid me,” she recalled. “He laughed and smiled and kept walking out the door.”
In Puerto Rico, family spokesman Lopez Torres said the gunman’s family left their hometown shortly after learning of the shooting Thursday morning. He said Army officials told the family that Lopez would be treated “like an American soldier and no less.”
Still, the family is devastated.
“They do realize that it’s not just them and Puerto Rico that have been affected, but other families as well,” Lopez Torres said. “They’re going through a very painful time, unfortunately.”