THE army sergeant who killed three people and injured 16 during a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood military base in the United States was examined by a psychiatrist just last month who saw “no indication of likely violence”.
US army secretary John McHugh said Ivan Lopez – who suffered from insomnia – was not considered a danger to himself or others and that his treatment for depression and anxiety was continuing as normal.
He also confirmed Lopez was being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lopez – who had a wife and a three-year-old daughter and only transferred to Fort Hood in February – shot himself after his killing spree, the second at the Texas base in five years.
The spark for the killing spree was reportedly an argument. Last night it was claimed that Lopez was furious at the army for not allowing him enough time off after his mother died.
According to friends in his home town in Puerto Rico, he was only given 24 hours to attend her funeral and had been held up from going home until five days after her death.
Edgardo Arlequin, mayor of Guayanilla, and a personal friend of Lopez, said: “They didn’t give him the time he wanted. That apparently affected him.”
Lopez’s mother died five months ago of a heart attack and was the “anchor of the family”, Mr Arlequin said. Lopez’s grandfather had also died a few weeks before.
It also emerged yesterday that Lopez’s wife had watched the tragedy unfold on television at her home and feared her husband was among the victims. She reportedly became “hysterical” when he was named as the gunman, a close friend told reporters.
On 5 November, 2009, US army Major Nidal Malik Hasan – a self-styled radical Islamist – shot dead 13 people and injured 32 at the Fort Hood base.
Mr McHugh said with regard to Lopez there was so far “no involvement with extremist organisations of any kind”.
Questions were also raised following the shooting about the treatment of mental illness in the US military, where about 22 veterans take their own lives every day.
The 34-year-old Lopez met his psychiatrist last month and was taking the sleeping drug zolpidem, sold under the brand name Ambien in the US, to help with insomnia, which was among a range of mental health issues he had. Mr McHugh said: “We had no indication on the record with that examination that there was any sign of likely violence either to himself or to others, or any suicidal ideation.So the plan was to just continue to monitor and treat him as deemed appropriate.”
Lopez opened fire around 4pm on Monday at the facility which is in Killeen, north of Austin, Texas, and is the largest army base in the US.
Dressed in combat fatigues he entered two buildings and opened fire with a 45-calibre semi-automatic pistol before getting into a gunfight with military police during which he shot himself dead.
Three of the 16 wounded remain in critical condition with neck, spine and stomach injuries. All those shot were military service personnel.
Lopez spent nine years in Puerto Rico’s National Guard before joining the US military in 2008. He was in the 13th Sustainment Command which deals with logistics and served two deployments, one of which was for four months in Iraq in 2011 as a truck driver.
After returning he said he had suffered a traumatic brain injury though he did not see combat.
Only last year former US navy reservist Aaron Alexis, 34, shot dead 12 people at the Navy Yard in Washington DC after suffering hallucinations brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder linked to rescuing survivors of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.
As a result of the navy yard incident, US defence secretary Chuck Hagel ordered more rigorous screening of personnel and the creation of an analysis centre to examine “insider threats”.
Republican congressman Peter King said the latest massacre showed “more has to be done” to help those with mental illness. He said: “It’s hard to get people enthused about it until something like this happens, then they realise the importance of it.”
President Barack Obama said he was “heartbroken” over the shooting and that it “re-opens the pain” of the Fort Hood killings in 2009.