Call us skeptical, but we're having a hard time buying the Army's "explanation" of last week's deadly shooting at Fort Hood.
According to Fox News, service officials have concluded that Specialist Ivan Lopez "snapped" after his leave request was denied, and not because of some on-going mental problem.
The Army announced its findings a short time ago, after agents from its Criminal Investigation Division concluded interviews with more than 1,000 people connected to Lopez or affected by the shooting rampage, which left four people dead and 16 wounded.
A final report on the tragedy is still weeks away, and it will hopefully shed more light on the terrible tragedy at Fort Hood, the second mass shooting at the post in less than five years. More information would be welcome because (to date), the military has not provided sufficient details on key elements of the case, including:
- The gunman's mental health. In the hours after the shooting, various media outlets--citing Army and law enforcement sources--reported that Lopez was undergoing treatment for various psychological issues, and was taking medications for his condition. The commanding general of Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Mark Milley, said Lopez was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress at the time of the shooting, but a final diagnosis had not been made. Clearly, the shooter's mental state (and his medication regimen) would have a major influence on his actions.
- His Status in the Warrior Transition Brigade. Specialist Lopez was assigned to a unit that provides "provide personalized support to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management." Yet, no one has outlined his duties within the unit; Lopez was a former infantryman who had recently cross-trained as a truck driver. Was he a staff member in the WTB, or a patient in the transition program? And if Lopez was in that latter category, what type of medical or rehabilitative care was he receiving--and for what conditions? General Milley has stated that Lopez was not transitioning out of the military, but if he was being treated through the transition brigade, his condition was serious enough for long-term care.
- Those Requests for Leave. Various sources indicate that Lopez was upset after the death of his mother, when the Army (initially) denied him leave to attend the funeral. His commander subsequently gave Lopez a 24-hour pass, and he finally arrived in Puerto Rico five days after his mother's death. Other accounts indicate that that Lopez made another leave request in the hours just before the shooting and it was denied, sending him over the edge.
As we suggested in our previous post, something about this version of events doesn't pass the Aggie test. DoD Instruction 1327.06 mandates that commanders must allow emergency leave, even if military members don't have enough days accrued to cover the planned absence. Assuming Lopez had a "zero" balance in his leave account at the time his mother passed, his commanding officer could have granted up to 30 days away from duty. The fact that Specialist Lopez received only a 24-hour pass suggests he might have been restricted to base for some sort of disciplinary infraction, or doctors did not consider him well enough to travel. That ruling would have almost certainly been based on psychological issues, since there are no reports of Lopez being hospitalized or treated for physical conditions during that period. Simply stated, the Army still hasn't explained why Lopez didn't receive his leave requests, and the circumstances surrounding that final rejection that may have triggered his rampage.
- His Transfer to Foot Hood. Specialist Lopez arrived at Fort Hood in February of this year, after spending almost four years at Fort Bliss near El Paso. Retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks told CNN last week that we has surprised that Lopez was allowed to move to Fort Hood, suggesting he should have remained at his old post for "continuity of care." To date, the Army hasn't explained how Lopez's initial diagnosis, medication and treatment meshed with his training for a new job. In most cases, treatment for a serious physical illness or psychological condition would be enough for the deferment or cancellation of the training slot.
With any situation of this type, there is a demand for immediate answers and the inevitable rush to judgment. The Army clearly believes that Ivan Lopez was a soldier who suddenly went off the deep end, motivated (in part) by disagreements over recent leave requests. That allows them to tidy up the investigation process and get on with the business of helping the victims and resuming the mission at Fort Hood.
And the explanation may be just that simple. But the factors listed above represent unanswered questions about the case and until those are addressed publicly, we may never know what really led to last Wednesday's mass shooting. Would continuity of care at Fort Bliss have made a difference? Why were commanders reluctant to grant leave to Lopez, even at a time of great personal loss? Were there discipline or medical issues that limited his ability to get leave? Without answers to these questions (and others), we're left with an "official" explanation that seems a bit hurried and a little too pat.