President Barack Obama offered soldiers and families at Fort Hood words of consolation for the loss of three servicemen who died in a shooting rampage earlier this month and vowed the U.S. will do more for veterans suffering from mental anguish.
“For you, their families, no words are equal to your loss,” Obama said at a memorial service at the base today. “You gave your sons to America and just as you honor them always, so too will the nation that they served.”
The soldiers killed were Sergeant 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, 39, Mulberry, Florida; Staff Sergeant Carlos A. Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and Sergeant Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, Effingham, Illinois. Sixteen other people were wounded after Army Specialist Ivan A. Lopez opened fire after a dispute on the base.
“Part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before. This tragedy tears at wounds still raw from 5 years ago,” Obama said.
It was during Obama’s first year in office, in November 2009, that he last traveled to the U.S. Army base in central Texas. He went then to pay tribute to the 13 people killed and 30 wounded when Army Major Nidal Hasan went on a shooting spree. A military court has sentenced Hasan to death.
Today marked the seventh time in his presidency that Obama has had to serve as the nation’s chief consoler after a burst of violence.
His most recent before today also was at a military facility: the Navy Yard in Washington where last September a gunman killed 12 people. In between, there were somber ceremonies in Tucson, Arizona, Aurora, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut, and Boston.
“It is true that the president has attended ceremonies and services of this nature in the past, far too often, but they never become routine,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday.
As he has at such events in the past, Obama sought to draw a lesson from the tragedy. He vowed to find a way to keep troops safe at home as well as in battle and to provide mental health services for veterans and service members.
“As a nation we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues” and to keep firearms out of the hands of those that are having such deep difficulties, Obama said.
Lopez, 34, of Puerto Rico, who served in Iraq and had been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to military officials. The Army this week said his violent rampage followed an argument over a request Lopez made for taking leave.
Lopez went on an eight-minute rampage on the Army base, covering about two city blocks, Chris Grey, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, said at an April 7 briefing. When confronted by a military police officer, Lopez pointed a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol at his own head and shot himself, Grey said.
Investigators have found no evidence of a link to a terrorist or extremist organization, Grey said.
Obama spoke to an audience of about 3,000 service members, their families and elected officials including Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans. Before his address, the president met with the families of those killed or wounded in the shooting.
The latest Fort Hood shooting drew renewed attention to security at U.S. military bases and to the mental health of service personnel who have sometimes dealt with multiple deployments to war zones.
About 936,000 people serving on active duty in the military were diagnosed with at least one mental illness from 2001 to 2011, according to an August report by the Congressional Research Service. Military spending for mental health was $994 million in 2012, up from $468 million five years earlier.
While some lawmakers, such as Republican Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the House homeland security committee, have urged the military to let senior leaders carry firearms on bases, service chiefs have resisted.
The weapon used in the killings, bought at nearby Guns Galore, wasn’t registered with base authorities as required.
Legislation to curb gun violence, including bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, that Obama proposed after the shootings of 26 children and adults at a Newtown elementary school in December 2012 stalled in Congress. The restrictions were opposed by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby.
Obama had already planned to be in Texas later today for Democratic fundraisers in Houston and tomorrow for an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin.