Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Six-foot, nine – standing tall to point out Hasan

'I decided to play dead,' medic recalls
National media descends on Ft. Hood for first day of Hasan trial
Ft. Hood – Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, a veteran Army medic, ran Station 13 of the Soldier Readiness Program like a finely honed machine. No detail escapes him today, three and a half years after his last duty day.

The small waiting area, less than 20 by 20 feet, held 4 rows of 11 folding chairs, except the last row, which held 12, for a total seating of 45 soldiers who snaked through the chairs from the top left corner to the bottom right like ball bearings in a pinball machine.

From there they fanned out through a myriad of other stations for routine health assessment, blood draw, inoculations, examination for traumatic brain injury, flu shots, routine physicals – the works.

On the 5th of November, 2009, Alonzo ate his lunch in the break room. When he came back just after l p.m., he saw Hasan sitting front and center in Chair 45, elbows on his knees, eyes downcast. You could tell as Sgt. Lunsford testified, it didn't look good, and he didn't make it sound any better with his words.

It wasn't the first time he'd seen him. Hasan had trouble with the staff in an earlier incident during the previous week when he didn't want to renew his flu shot. They turned him over to the officer in charge – who, predictably, "chastised" him for making waves.

And then, the bottom fell out. Hasan approached the data entry clerk, a woman named LaToya Williams, and spoke to her. She left. Earlier testimony revealed he tricked her into believing the officer in charge wanted her in her office.

Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” and cut loose with his pistol.

Soldiers hit the deck,” said Sgt. Lunsford. He saw Chief Cahill, a retired Warrant Officer who now worked as a provider in the medical cubicles of the readiness program, try to run him down with a chair, and he saw the retiree, who was now working Station 13 as a civilian, fall, the victim of Hasan's bullets.

At first, Sgt. Lunsford crouched behind the counter, then he hit the prone position and started the low crawl. The laser sight's beam hit him in the eyes, and he blinked to keep it from blinding him.

And then the first bullet hit him just below his left eye. He kept his head glued to the deck. “I decided to play dead,” though blood was pooling on the floor below his face.

It worked, for awhile, but then, “I remembered, dead men don't sweat.” Conditioning and training in escape and evasion techniques took over. An old soldier got busy doing his stuff.

He decided to make a run for it; Hasan shot him six more times for his efforts, five times in the body and once more in the head. Blinded by blood, his heart racing, he ran through the double doors on the south end of the building, and when he hit the end of the pavement, he cartwheeled down a grassy embankment. He asked his rescuers if he was finally clear of the building. They said yes, to calm down and let them give him triage care.

He did a self assessment and realized he could still wiggle his fingers and toes. As three courageous individuals worked on him, he saw Hasan come out the back door of building 42003, pistol blazing.

When the prosecutor asked him if he saw the man who shot him, he raised up and look Hasan in the eye, pointed at him, and said, “That's him, there.”

Ten soldiers fell in the small confines of Station 13, and then Hasan walked into a rear area of the building staffed by many civilians whom he did not attack. Three more soldiers perished while trying to hide in plain sight – one of them behind an IV stand, witnesses recall.

Michelle Harper is a phlebotomist who works in a blood draw station, and has for the past 6 years.

She and other female civilian medical technicians worked at a long row of tables. They were having a leisurely chat after lunch when, “At first all we heard was something that sounded like firecrackers – what we believed to be firecrackers. At first, we made it under the desk.”

That's when she dialed 911.

As the questions came at her rapid fire, she sobbed, and Col. Tara Osborn, the military judge in the case, instructed Chief Prosecutor Michael Mulligan to slow down.

The judge told Ms. Harper to wait outside the courtroom.

As the 911 tape played, you could hear her screaming in terror, the rapid fire of Hasan's pistol, and the ragged moaning and rattling breath of a mortally wounded man, Specialist Michael Pearson, who taking his last few breaths. He expires during the audio tape.

When she escaped the carnage, Ms. Harper saw Hasan come out the back door, where she caught a brief glimpse of he and Officer Kim Munley trading fire in a gunfight, as Hasan wounded the officer twice. Panicked, Ms. Harper jumped in her car and ran through a ditch, her cell phone in her hand, talking to dispatchers all the while, and ended up on another street.

As the 911 tape played and people listened to her testimony, people looked anywhere but at each other, or at her. During those hellish moments, everyone seemed to be ashamed to look their fellow man or woman in the eye.

Testimony and presentation of evidence resumes at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 7. 

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