FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — For several survivors testifying at a hearing for the Army psychiatrist accused in last year’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, it’s the eyes of the gunman they remember.
“I saw that look in his eyes,” Pfc. George Stratton III said during a hearing to determine if Maj. Nidal Hasan should stand trial. Patton described the shooter as having a “piercing gaze in his eyes, dark eyes.”
“I’ve relived that in my head.”
Stratton said he knew he would be shot after kneeling to help a bleeding friend and then turning to see Hasan, who Stratton said had just reloaded his gun Nov. 5 at the post’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center. Stratton, who was shot in the shoulder, echoed testimony of other witnesses Wednesday at Hasan’s Article 32 hearing.
“We looked eye to eye,” now-retired Staff Sgt. Alvin Howard said, “and he just shot me.
“I will never forget his face,” Howard said when asked if he recognized Hasan in the courtroom.
Prosecutors planned to call additional witnesses Thursday to testify before Lt. Col. James L. Pohl, presiding over the hearing as its investigating officer. The hearing is expected to last for at least three weeks.
Hasan, 40, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers fired on him during the attack.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
Hasan, seated in a wheelchair about 15 feet away, looked on intently as Howard, Stratton and others described how a routine trip for several hundred soldiers for bloodwork or immunizations before deployment was interrupted suddenly by his loud cry of “Allahu Akbar” — “God is Great” in Arabic — and then gunfire.
“It was a yell, in a loud pronounced voice,” said Spc. James Armstrong, who replicated the cry at the request of prosecutors. “It came from the major holding a weapon.”
One soldier described the weapon as old-fashioned. Another said it had a laser gunsight. Last November, witnesses said the gunman had two weapons. No witnesses testified Wednesday to seeing more than one gun. Some said they heard gunfire or felt bullets pierce their bodies but never saw who was shooting.
Armstrong and others described a chaotic scene: fellow soldiers hit, people dropping to the floor because they were shot or trying to avoid bullets, the smell of sulfur from gunfire filling the air. Michael Grant Cahill, 62, a civilian physician assistant who worked in the building, tried to knock Hasan down with a chair but was shot and killed.
People were running, crawling, screaming and moaning as the gunman reloaded and kept firing rapidly, first aiming into a crowded waiting area and then shooting people on the ground.
“As fast as someone can pull the trigger,” said Armstrong, who was shot twice.
Several soldiers used their fists to rap the witness stand quickly and repeatedly after prosecutors asked them to describe the gunshots.
Armstrong described the scene as “the worst horror movie you could ever see.”
“There was blood everywhere. Bloody handprints on walls from people trying to get up. Pools of blood on the floor.”
Col. Mike Mulligan, the lead prosecutor, asked if he could see bodies.
“Yes,” Armstrong replied.
Asked if he knew any of the victims, Armstrong responded: “I didn’t stop to check, sir.”
Armstrong, in fact, knew at least two victims: Capt. John Gaffaney, 56, a psychiatric nurse who had been chatting with him moments before the shooting, and Capt. Russell Seager, 51, a psychiatrist. Each had recently arrived at Fort Hood in preparation for deployment.
Contract worker Michelle Harper used her cell phone to call 911 while cowering under a desk with others. A six-minute recording of her 13-minute call was played in court.
“Oh my God! Everybody’s shot!” a frantic and clearly frightened Harper told the 911 operator as the gunshots and moans resounded around her.
In her testimony Wednesday, she told of crawling from beneath the desk, of trying to escape and of seeing a soldier in front of her getting shot three times.
Asked how she knew, she said: “The way his body moved.”