Nurses, Medics Recount Fort Hood Shootings

Guerra began using a marker to identify which of the wounded were not going to make it.


San Jose Mercury News | | Thursday, October 21, 2010

FORT HOOD, Texas - Nurses and medics described in searing detail Tuesday how they began treating the wounded, even as a gunman in a soldier's uniform continued his deadly assault outside and seemed to be heading back toward the building.

Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra, the noncommissioned officer in charge of medical processing at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center that day, said she shouted at nurses and medics to begin triage work on the wounded inside, even as she tried to barricade the doors to keep the shooter from re-entering.

"And I'm thinking to myself, 'He is not getting back into this building,'"

Guerra said in testimony via satellite from Michigan.

Guerra said she used a belt to close off a set of double doors, then wedged a chair against another door, to keep the assailant out during the Nov. 5 shooting.

"Just keep triaging," she ordered the medical staff.

She and others who were present in the building gave chilling details of the bloodbath and the chaotic efforts to save lives. Some nurses slipped on the floor, which was covered with blood and spent shell casings, and tried to see through thick smoke that made it seem dark inside.

Guerra began using a marker to identify which of the wounded were not going to make it, so staff could focus on other wounded. She wrote "D 1325" on the foreheads of two soldiers who she'd determined had died about 1:25 p.m.

"If they're dead, you've got to move on," she recalled yelling.

Others nurses gave gripping accounts Tuesday of in the deadliest incident on a U.S. base in modern times, one that left 13 dead and dozens more wounded.

Theodore Coukoulis, a civilian nurse who cowered with others in a rear corner of the building while the shooter was inside, said he could hear the gunman come closer, moving casually as if "walking through a mall." Shell casings had wedged in the tread of the shooter's boots, creating a clicking noise with each step on the hard floor.

"You could hear the clack, clack, clack at the same time you could hear the bang, bang, bang of the guns," Coukoulis said.

Coukoulis, an Army retiree, said the gunman confronted three soldiers and then shot them to death.

"They didn't wince and they didn't (whimper). They were looking at death and they knew it," Coukoulis testified.

Then the shooter looked at the civilian nurses in the area and left, he said.

After identifying Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, as the gunman, he and Guerra said they had seen him a week earlier. Hasan had objected when told he needed to get a smallpox vaccination, Coukoulis said.

"He was being very uncooperative" about getting the shot, he said.

Guerra said she saw Hasan in one of the chairs in her area on Nov. 5, about 20 minutes before the shooting began. She went into her office to eat lunch, but stood back up when she heard someone yelling.

As she rounded her desk, the shooting began, she said.

Kimberly Huseman, a registered nurse in the center that day, dabbed tears from her face as a tape of her eight-minute 911 call was played in the courtroom. During the call, she shouted "Oh, my God" repeatedly, and relayed whatever information she could about the gunman.

"He's a soldier," she said. "I don't know who he is."

"Is an ambulance coming? We need help right now," Huseman told the dispatcher, while at the same time worrying whether the gunman would return.

"The shooter's down," she later said, her pitch rising with anguish when faced with the aftermath.

Ingar Campbell, a retired Army sergeant who was a caseworker at the center, said Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow died in her arms. Another witness, Shemaka Hairston, a civilian nurse there, recalled seeing two of the soldiers fatally shot. She cupped her face in her hands as a tape of her six-minute 911 call was played in the courtroom.

One of the arduous tasks facing the investigating officer, Col. James Pohl, is weighing the merits of each of the 45 charges against Hasan, who faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.

After the Article 32 hearing is over, Pohl will advise Fort Hood commanders whether he believes they should pursue a court martial on all the charges or lessen or dismiss some of them.

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