Author: By David Usborne, US Editor
Military officials said that there were as many as three gunmen responsible for the rampage and that one of the gunmen had been killed. An additional two soldiers had been apprehended and were under suspicion. All three of these individuals were identified by an Army spokesman as soldiers.
The first of the shootings occurred at about 1.30pm inside a medical and personnel processing building that is formally known as the Soldier Rating and Processing Centre. It is a building soldiers routinely pass through while getting ready to deploy. However, at least one of the victims, was identified as a civilian.
Lt-General Bob Cone spoke to reporters on the perimeter of the base. “We have had a terrible tragedy at Fort Hood today. The situation is ongoing but we are very close to a resolution,” he said, almost three hours after the first shots were fired. “The numbers that we are looking at are 12 dead and 31 wounded.” The wounded were being treated in hospitals across central Texas.
In Washington, meanwhile, aides were keeping President Barack Obama abreast of developments on the base, a huge complex that includes housing areas and several schools. Mr Obama called the shootings “horrifying”. At a conference on Native American rights, he added: “My immediate thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and with the families of those who have fallen… we will make sure we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident.”
For soldiers who are trained to face possible injury or worse while deployed in war theatres abroad, there was no emotional preparation for the shock of such an indiscriminate act of mass killing taking place on US soil and indeed within the confines of one of their own bases.
“I am horrified just like everyone else,” Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a US senator for Texas, said of the killings. “This is a base that has sent people time and time again to Iraq and now to Afghanistan. They have borne a lot of the responsibility for the war on terror and for this to happen at this particular base is heartbreaking.”
School children at the nine schools on the base, who were to have been allowed home on early release last night, were being kept in their classrooms until the situation was declared under control. More than two hours after the two shootings, sirens were still sounding on the base.
As many as 500 military personnel were mobilised to stage a complete sweep of the base to ensure its security. Witnesses on the edge of the facility saw ambulances coming and going from the main entrance and medivac helicopters landing inside it, presumably to ferry the severely wounded to hospital. Members of families were also assembled on parking lots on the edge of the base trying to determine whether any of their loved ones may have been hurt or killed in the shootings.
Fort Hood has close to 50,000 soldiers assigned to it. In addition, it is home to many military families. There is also a large community of retired military personnel who live in the area. As well as sending solders into harm’s way in war zones, it has seen many wounded soldiers returning from the conflicts abroad. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, was also monitoring events last night from Washington.
“People in Fort Hood have been in and out of Iraq on numerous occasions and in Afghanistan, there is a lot of stress and a lot of fatigue there,” retired General Wesley Clark commented. The US Army considers itself a single, closely knit family and the news of the human toll was creating shock throughout the military community.
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