Soldiers recall terror at base
Thursday, October 14, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- A sergeant shot five times during the rampage at Fort Hood said Wednesday he recalled lying on the floor and locking eyes with Maj. Nidal Hasan after the Army psychiatrist cried out "Allahu Akbar" and unleashed a burst of gunfire into a crowd of soldiers preparing for deployment.
Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford said the light from a laser-guided weapon soon trained on him, and he closed his eyes.
Lunsford, who lost most of the sight in his left eye in the Nov. 5 attack, was the first in a string of victims who came face-to-face with Hasan at a military hearing to determine whether he should stand trial on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Hasan, 40, looked on intently as fellow soldiers described diving wounded to the ground, crawling through pools of blood and struggling to pull friends to safety. He showed no emotion as several identified him in the courtroom as the gunman in the worst mass shooting ever at an American military base.
Lunsford testified that Hasan pulled weapons from his Army combat uniform and shouted "God is Great," in Arabic.
"I was wondering why he would say 'Allahu Akbar,'" Lunsford said. He illustrated the pace of the subsequent round of gunfire by rapping his fist on the witness stand.
Prosecutor Lt. Col. Steve Henricks asked Lunsford if he got a look at the shooter.
Lunsford said he had a "very good look," then stood and pointed at Hasan, who wore his Army combat uniform while seated in a wheelchair just a few feet away. Hasan has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers fired on him during the attack.
"Maj. Hasan and I made eye contact," Lunsford said. "The laser (on the weapon's barrel) comes across my line of sight. I closed my eyes. He discharged his weapon."
The court also heard a recording of a contract worker's 911 call from the epicenter of the tragedy -- the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. Medical technician Michelle Harper said she hid under a desk when the gunfire began.
"Hurry, please," a frantic Harper told the 911 operator as the gun shots and groans for help resounded around her.
"Are you safe?" the unidentified 911 operator asked.
"No," Harper replied.
Harper cried as the 911 tape was played, and Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge presiding over the hearing as its investigating officer, called a brief recess to give her a chance to recover.
The Article 32 hearing, a proceeding unique to military law, will determine if there's enough evidence to move forward to a trial. It is expected to last at least three weeks.
Lunsford, a 6-foot-9 1/2 serviceman based at Fort Bragg, N.C., testified that he crouched behind a check-in counter at the processing center and watched as a civilian physician assistant, Michael Grant Cahill, tried to knock Hasan down with a chair. Cahill was one of the 13 killed that day.
Later Wednesday Pvt. Amber Bahr described the chaos as the shooting began.
"People were trying to hide behind barriers and lifting up and throwing chairs, and people trying to shield themselves from the gunshots," Bahr, who was shot in the back, told the court.
Staff Sgt. Alvin Bernard Howard said he was playing solitaire on a computer when he heard yelling and gunshots he thought were part of a training exercise. He realized it wasn't when a bullet casing landed on his laptop.
"I looked to see what was going on and that's when I got shot," said Howard, who attends weekly physical therapy sessions after a gunshot wound to the shoulder left him without full use of his left arm.
Witnesses have said Hasan used two personal pistols, one a semiautomatic, to take some 100 shots at about 300 people at the center where soldiers were making final preparations to deploy.