Army officials seem to be backing away from mental health problems as an explanation for why 34-year-old Ivan Lopez killed three soldiers and himself at Fort Hood on Wednesday. They are now focusing on an argument he had with fellow soldiers just before the incident.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the post’s commanding general, updated the media on the ongoing investigation, saying the authorities no longer believe Lopez’s underlying medical condition was a “direct precipitating factor” in the shooting that killed three and wounded 16.
Lopez was an Iraq War veteran who served four months in 2011. He had been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder and treated for depression and anxiety, according to authorities. Lopez had also self-reported a traumatic brain injury upon returning to the U.S., but he was not classified as wounded in action.
A reporter from the New York Times gained access to Lopez’s Facebook page, which offered a glimpse into his anger at the Army over a number of issues, particularly that he hadn’t been given enough leave time after the death of his mother, Carmen Lopez, a nurse in Puerto Rico who died in November.
A law enforcement official told the Times that Specialist Lopez “felt like he wasn’t being treated fairly. He wasn’t getting what he felt he should have been entitled to.”
A statement from Lopez’s father, Ivan Lopez, written in Spanish and released in Guayanilla, P.R., where Lopez grew up and where his family still lives, said: “My son could not have been in his right mind. This is not who he was.”
It went on to say that the deaths of his mother and grandfather, along with “the recent changes he experienced in his transfer to the base affected his condition as a result of his experiences as a soldier.”
Lopez was divorced from his first wife, who also lives in Puerto Rico with their two children, and he lived with his second wife and a child in Texas.
Officials said that after a meeting where he had sought a leave to attend to family matters, Lopez was clearly agitated and disrespectful when his request was denied. Officials said Lopez became angry with soldiers from his unit before the attack—and two of those he killed were in his unit, a transportation battalion of the 13th Sustainment Command.
But officials stressed that they had still not established a clear motive.
But Theodis Westbrook, of Smithdale, Miss., the father of Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook, who was wounded in the attack, told a Mississippi television station that he was told a soldier came to Fort Hood’s personnel office, where Sgt. Westbrook worked, to get a leave form. Westbrook told the station that when one of the soldiers told the man to come back the next day to pick that form up, the man left and proceeded to return with a gun and open fire.
“The first guy he shot right in front of my son was killed, and then he turned the gun towards Jonathan, aimed it, and fired,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know how many times he fired, but he hit my son four times.”
Using his Facebook name of “Ivan Slipknot, a reference to his favorite heavy metal band, Lopez posted comments on Facebook—visible only to his friends—that gave a window into his angry and troubled mind.
On March 1, the day he purchased the .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol he used in the attack, Lopez wrote, “My spiritual peace has all gone away, I am full of hate, I believe now the devil is taking me. I was robbed last night and I’m sure it was two flacos. Green light and thumbs down. It’s just that easy …”
The Times pointed out that it’s not clear whether he was referring to an actual robbery, or a figurative robbery where he was denied something that he felt was owed to him. The translation for “flack” is skinny, but it is also a slang term used to refer to another man—which Times reporter Manny Fernandez said is akin to an English-speaking American calling a friend “dude.”
According to the Times, Lopez posted a photo of what appeared to be a handgun on Feb. 27 with the comment “Plaka, plaka, plaka, plaka..,” Puerto Rican slang for “Bang, bang, bang, bang…”
“In shock. Mom died today,” he wrote on Nov. 15. “Thanks for your condolences. I couldn’t answer your calls,” he wrote, blaming Army bureaucracy with a vulgar term.
Mary Louise Muntean, the mother of Army Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, a recently married native of Effingham, Ill., who was shot in the chest at close range and killed, said she never imagined her son would die on American soil.
“I can’t believe this has happened. I just can’t,” she told NBC News. “I just talked to him Sunday night.”
As for deceased Sgt. First Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, 39, from Florida, who had just returned from Afghanistan, his fiancée and fellow soldier Kristen Haley told Tampa broadcaster WTSP-TV that he died while trying to barricade a door to keep the shooter away.
“If he wasn’t the one standing there holding those doors closed, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else,” Haley, who was nearby when the shooting started, told WTSP-TV.
The third deceased solder, Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, was set to retire from the Army later this year.