Ivan Lopez, the soldier who carried out a mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas, had not been in combat during his tour of Iraq, but was being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder
A US soldier who shot dead three comrades and wounded 16 others before killing himself was on a cocktail of prescription drugs and had managed to smuggle a semi-automatic handgun on to one of America’s largest military bases.
Specialist Ivan Lopez, 34, who had been prescribed drugs including anti-depressants and Ambien for insomnia, had been deployed to Iraq as a truck driver for four months in 2011.
After his return he told senior officers he had suffered a traumatic brain injury, but military officials said he had not been directly involved in combat and had not been wounded.
According to friends in his home town of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, Lopez had been devastated by the death of his mother from a heart attack in October, and his grandmother earlier this year.
Aidé Merlo Irizarry, a family friend, told Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia: “Ivan was very loving to his mother and it hurt him a lot when she died. We are praying for the victims.”
Asked if Lopez's request for leave over his mother's death had been denied Lt Gen Mark Milley, the senior officer at Fort Hood, said: “We are looking into that.”
Milley added: “We have strong evidence that he had a history of psychiatric instability. We believe that was the fundamental underlying cause.”
At the time of the shooting Lopez was in the process of being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder. In February had been transferred from another base in Texas to Fort Hood, which has a Warrior Transition Unit. More than 40,000 military personnel are based at Fort Hood.
The shooting highlighted the scale of the mental health legacy from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last month Lopez had been fully examined by a military psychiatrist and there were found to be no signs he was likely to commit violence either against himself or others.
US Army Secretary John McHugh said: “The plan was just to continue to monitor and treat him as deemed appropriate.”
Lopez was from Puerto Rico where he had served in the National Guard since 1999, going on a peacekeeping mission to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in the mid-2000s. He later joined the regular Army.
At 4pm on Wednesday Lopez, who was in uniform, reportedly argued with other soldiers at a Medical Brigade building, then got into a vehicle firing several shots out the window as he drove away. He then entered another building belonging to the 49th Transportation Battalion and opened fire again with a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson.
Less than 15 minutes after the shooting began he was confronted in a car park by a female military police officer who pointed her gun at him from 20ft away before Lopez shot himself in the head.
The shooting happened at the same base, and a short distance from where Army psychiatrist Nidal Hassan, who had become radicalised by an al-Qaeda terrorist based in Yemen, shot dead 13 people and wounded 32 others in November 2009.
Lt Gen Milley confirmed that Lopez bought his weapon at Guns Galore, the same shop just outside the base where Hassan purchased the pistol he used. Lopez bought his in March.
It was the third fatal shooting on a US military base in six months. Last September former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis, who believed he was controlled by electromagnetic waves, killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.
Last month at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia a civilian went on to the base and shot dead a sailor on a Navy destroyer.
By comparison, last month no US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.
A few weeks ago Lopez moved into a small apartment with his wife and infant daughter. It was in a row of a dozen identical white brick buildings just outside the sprawling base, which covers 340 square miles and surrounds the town of Killeen like a horseshoe.
As news of the shooting swept through Killeen the many residents with relatives living or working on the base faced an agonising wait.
According to neighbours Lopez’s wife initially feared her husband might be one of the victims. She then emerged from the apartment “hysterical, shaking and crying” after finding out he was the shooter. She was later taken away by officials and is co-operating with authorities at the base.
Neighbour Xanderia Morris said Lopez left his home each morning for the base dressed in an Army T-shirt.
Like in other US military bases, soldiers at Fort Hood are unarmed apart from those employed in security duties. Lopez had purchased his gun at a civilian weapons store outside the base.
Following the 2009 shooting, Fort Hood imposed even stricter restrictions on guns. Soldiers living on the base who have privately held weapons were required to register them with their commander and keep them locked in an arms room.
The latest shooting led to calls from some politicians and soldiers for the restrictions to be reversed, rather than tightened further.
Sgt Howard Ray, a survivor of the 2009 massacre, said: “When our soldiers are unarmed, they will find themselves in a situation like yesterday and in 2009.”
A Texas congressman has already introduced a proposed law that would allow personal weapons to be carried on the base so soldiers could better tackle a crazed gunman.
Killeen’s mayor Dan Corbin said it was “unreasonable” to have expected soldiers to stop Lopez smuggling the gun in. He said: “There are tens of thousands of cars that come in and out of Fort Hood every day. It would be logistically impossible to search each and every one.”
Asked about the series of shootings at military bases, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “Something’s not working.”
US President Barack Obama said he was “heartbroken” that another shooting had occurred.