FORT HOOD, Texas – One by one, President Barack Obama spoke the names and told the stories Tuesday of the 13 people slain in the Fort Hood shooting rampage, honoring their memories even as he denounced the “twisted logic” that led to their deaths.
“No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor,” Obama told the crowd on a steamy Texas afternoon. “And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice — in this world and the next.”
He did not name Maj. Nidal Hasan, the military psychiatrist accused of the killings last Thursday. Soldiers reported that Hasan, who is Muslim, shouted the Arabic phrase for “God is Great” before opening fire.
As for the victims and the soldiers who rushed to help them, Obama said, “We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.” He spoke at a memorial service before a crowd estimated at 15,000 on this enormous Army post.
“This is a time of war, and yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great state,” Obama said.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama began an afternoon of consolation by meeting privately with family members of those killed last week and with those wounded in the attack and their families. Obama used his public remarks to put a human face on those who perished, victims ranging in age from 19 to 62. He also used his platform to speak indirectly to questions about whether the alleged shooter had ties to extremist Islamic ideology.
Thousands upon thousands of people, many of them soldiers dressed in camouflage, gathered to pay respects and hear the president. The shooting left 12 soldiers and 1 civilian dead, injured 29 others and left a nation stunned and searching for answers.
Below the stage where Obama spoke was a somber tribute to the fallen — 13 pairs of combat boots, each with an inverted rifle topped with a helmet. A picture of each person rested below the boots.
Even as Obama honored the dead, there was government finger-pointing over what had been known about shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Hasan’s background and whether he should have been investigated further.
U.S. officials said a Pentagon worker on a terrorism task force had looked into Hasan’s background months ago and had concluded he did not merit further investigation. Two officials said the group had been notified of communications between Hasan and a radical imam overseas and the information had been turned over to a Defense Criminal Investigative Service employee assigned to the task force. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Obama remembered the slain not as shooting victims but as husbands and fathers, immigrants and scholars, optimists and veterans of the war in Iraq. He cited one woman who was pregnant when she was gunned down.
The president spoke to loved ones left behind, saying: “Here is what you must also know: Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation.”
“Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that is their legacy,” he said.
He named and described each victim, including Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill, a physician’s assistant back at work just weeks after having a heart attack; Maj. Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, who spoke little English when he arrived in the United States from Mexico but earned a Ph.D. and helped combat units cope with the stress of deployment; Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, an Eagle Scout who signed up “to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service — defuse bombs.”
Later, the president and first lady planned to go to a military hospital to meet with those still recovering from injuries incurred during the attack.
The site of the ceremony was a field at the headquarters of the massive post, cordoned off with walls of steel shipping containers. Fort Hood is larger than many small towns, with about 53,000 troops, and it has substantial ties to the surrounding community.
Sheila Wormuth, whose husband is stationed at Fort Hood, brought her 3-year-old daughter to the memorial service to show their support. While her husband wasn’t at the shooting site, she said, “what happens to my husband’s brothers and sisters happens to us.”
This is Obama’s time to take on the healer role that can help shape a presidency at a time of national tragedy.
In an interview Monday with ABC News, Obama said he was going to Fort Hood to “personally express the incredible heartbreak that we all feel for — for the loss of these young men and women.”
Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, governed during the worst terrorist attack on American soil, the most crippling natural disaster in U.S. history, a space shuttle explosion, a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, a tornado that wiped away a Kansas town, a bridge collapse in Minnesota, Midwestern flooding and California wildfires. Each response affected his standing, for better or worse, in a country that expects its president to be empathetic and clearly in charge.
History is full of other examples. Bill Clinton helped rebuild his troubled presidency with the way he reacted to the Oklahoma City bombings.
In this case, Obama has sought his own balance.
He has promised a full investigation of the Fort Hood shootings but has said little about it as police search for a motive. He has praised religious diversity in the military, trying to offer calm as questions loom about whether the alleged shooter had ties to extremist Islamic ideology. And he has delayed a trip to Asia to attend the memorial service.
The mass killing shook the nation even more because it happened in a presumed haven of U.S. security. Authorities say the suspect fired off more than 100 rounds before a civilian police officer shot him. He survived and is in stable condition.
It wasn’t even two weeks ago that Obama stood in the dark of night at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, honoring the remains of 18 troops killed in Afghanistan. Now he leads the mourning for 13 men and women who were working in the one place, as Obama put it, that “our soldiers ought to feel most safe.”
Among those killed at Fort Hood were 21-year-old Pvt. Francheska Velez, who was pregnant and preparing to return home after a recent deployment in Iraq. And Spc. Jason Hunt, a 22-year-old who served in Iraq and was married two months ago. And Maj. Libardo Caraveo, 52, who was headed to the war zone in Afghanistan.
When Obama returns to Washington, the cost of war will still be with him.
His agenda Wednesday: another war council meeting on Afghanistan, and laying a Veterans Day wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
[2:13 p.m. - 11/6/09] – Obama To Attend Memorial For Fort Hood Victims
President Barack Obama will attend a memorial service for those killed at Thursday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Friday said a service will be scheduled at the convenience of the families who lost loved ones during one of the largest mass shooting on a military base. Gibbs says a service has not yet been scheduled and it would be planned around the families’ schedules, not the president’s.
Thirteen people were killed and 30 others injured in the shooting rampage at the Texas Army post on Thursday. The suspected shooter is an Army psychiatrist; his motive remains unclear.
Gibbs said that a memorial service is keeping Obama’s schedule next week in flux.
Obama is scheduled to leave for Asia on Wednesday but wants to attend a memorial before starting the 10-day trip. Gibbs says the White House would not rule out delaying the trip because of the service.
[12:30 p.m. - 11/6/09] - Obama Calls Fort Hood Shootings “Horrific Outburst Of Violence”
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday called a mass shooting at a Texas Army base “a horrific outburst of violence.”
“We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident,” the commander in chief said. “We are going to stay on this.”
He said it’s a tragedy to lose a soldier overseas and even more horrifying when they come under fire at an Army base on American soil.
The Army says 12 people were killed and more than 30 wounded at the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas.
Obama also said his thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and families of the fallen.
Obama spoke late Thursday afternoon with Lt. Gen. Bob Cone, the commanding officer at Fort Hood, to express condolences and to offer any help Cone needs, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Obama was getting regular Oval Office updates on the shooting from his staff, led by his homeland security adviser, John Brennan.