Even before 34-year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez was officially identified as the shooter who killed three people and wounded 16 at Fort Hood on Wednesday, Army officials had revealed that the gunman was suffering from mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, a “self-reported” brain injury, and possibly PTSD. Yet, on Thursday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh told a Senate panel that the Iraq vet had “a clean record,” with “no outstanding bad marks for any kinds of major misbehaviors that we’re yet aware of.” And a full psychiatric evaluation a month ago raised no red flags. According to McHugh, the Army psychiatrist who treated Lopez prescribed several drugs, including Ambien, but found no “sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others.”
People who knew Lopez described him as friendly, disciplined, and calm. He was born in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, and loved playing music. He joined the National Guard in 1999 and later the Puerto Rico Police Department, playing in both organizations’ bands. He married his high school sweetheart and had two children. They had divorced by the time he took a leave from the police force to enlist in the Army in 2010, and the children remained in Puerto Rico. Shortly after he was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Lopez met his second wife, and they had at least one child.
Initial reports suggest Lopez was stressed and had complaints about the Army, but nothing extreme. Ismael Gonzalez, a former classmate, told the New York Times that trying to provide for his family in Texas and two children in Puerto Rico on a salary of $28,000 put him in a “precarious economic situation.” He was angry that the Army wouldn’t allow him to move his family onto the base, and upset that he was only given a short leave to go back to Puerto Rico to attend his mother’s funeral in November.
Lopez’s neighbor, 21-year-old Mahogany Jones, told The Wall Street Journal she talked to him about joining the military. “He said, ‘Don’t go. The military is not treating people fairly who protected and served,’” said Jones. He said he didn’t have much time to see his daughter, and was planning to leave the Army in a year.
Since much of this early information about Lopez’s mental health comes from the military, it’s unclear if there were truly no warning signs, or if officials are trying to downplay them. Just six months ago, the government was facing criticism for giving Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis security clearance though he had a history of violent outbursts and serious mental health issues.
Army officials suggested on Thursday that Lopez had other issues that haven’t come to light yet. “We’re trying to figure out what the trigger event was,” said Lieutenant General Mark Milley. “There may have been a verbal altercation with a soldier or soldiers. There’s a strong possibility that that in fact immediately preceded the shooting.”