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Fort Hood Investigation Continues; Lt Gen. Milley Briefs Press on Shooting Latest

Aired April 4, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can sum up the question tormenting so many Americans in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting with one word. Why? Perhaps we will get an answer during a live briefing any moment now.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Are mental health issues to blame? Did a run-in with another soldier set him off? The motive is still a mystery, but we're learning so much more about those at true center of this horror, the dead and the wounded.

The world lead. We're now a full four weeks into the disappearance of Flight 370 and only now for the first time the search is diving underwater, with some help from the U.S., but time is running out.

And the pop culture lead, you might go in expecting a typical spandex and pecks blockbuster, but what you get is a surprisingly topical political thriller. Is the new Captain American movie a veiled jab at President Obama?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin, of course, with the national lead. Any moment now, we're expecting a briefing on the latest from Fort Hood, Texas, where investigators are looking for any clue about the state of mind of the man who shot and killed three fellow soldiers there and wounded 16 others.

Today, we're hearing from the family of the shooter, Specialist Ivan Lopez, for the first time. But they seem just as hurt and confused as everyone else. Today, Governor Rick Perry and Senator Ted Cruz visited the wounded. Three patients have been upgraded from critical condition to fair condition. Five others have been released, with one more expected to leave soon.

The office of Senator John Cornyn, who visited the wounded yesterday, sent us a picture of a note from one of the wounded soldiers written to the medical staff which reads: "Sir, how's everyone doing? Let everyone know I'm doing good. We will all get through this as a family/team."

Investigators searched the shooter's home, but it seems anyone looking for an answer there came away sorely disappointed.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is standing by live at Fort Hood, where again we're expecting a news conference any minute now.

We're hearing from the shooter's father today, Pamela. What did he have to say?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, the shooter's father breaking his silence today in a statement released by a spokesperson of the family describing the father as astonished and also describing his son as a calm family man and a young worker who constantly sought to look after his family's future.

And in this statement, this is what the father of Ivan Lopez said. He said: "The situation is very painful. I seek prayers for all of the families affected, more so when there is an ongoing investigation. My son must have not been in his right mind. He wasn't like that."

And also in this statement released by the family spokesperson, the father talked about his son being under medical treatment and that the recent passing of his mother as well as his grandfather as well as recent changes here on base that his son experienced might have contributed to his condition.

So perhaps giving a clue to the mental instability that we have been hearing about -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela, in a moment, we're going to talk with the family of one of the wounded, Sergeant Jonathan Westbrook. Thankfully, they got good news at the end of this all, but they didn't know for hours whether he was alive or dead. Tell us about that.

BROWN: Yes. No, that's right, and just an agonizing wait for this family, as you can imagine.

The father of Jonathan Westbrook spoke to one of our affiliates, WLBT, and actually shed some light on what may have happened in the moments right before the shooting. The father of Westbrook said that Lopez walked into a personnel building to get a leave form and he apparently according to the father was told to come back the following day to pick up that leave form and the father says that Lopez walked out and came back with a gun and that's when he opened fire.

Jake, we have heard from sources that investigators are looking at whether Lopez's anger over a canceled leave request might have contributed or triggered him to do what he did on Wednesday. They are still trying to figure out that motive, though.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown at Bernie Beck Gate at Fort Hood, Texas, thank you so much.

You just heard the story of one of the survivors of the attack, Sergeant Jonathan Westbrook. We have his sister on the phone right now, Armetra Otis, who is on her way to go see her brother right now.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Have you spoken to your brother? How is he doing?

ARMETRA OTIS, SHOOTING VICTIM: He's doing really, really well.

We're on our way to see him as we speak. He was discharged from the hospital earlier today. So we just hope to see him in the spirits like we talked to him all last night and just early this morning.


TAPPER: Tell us, Armetra, what did he say happened?

OTIS: He just said that he was at work and a guy came in and asked for a leave form and apparently he didn't want to hear that, and so he came back and he just opened fire into the office on everyone.

TAPPER: So, Specialist Lopez asked for a leave form and he was told that he had come back, and then he left and then Specialist Lopez with a gun?

OTIS: Correct.

TAPPER: And did your brother know Specialist Lopez at all?

OTIS: He did. He said he saw him a few times, but he didn't know him personally because he just arrived like on the base. He was new to the base. So he didn't know him that well. He didn't know him at all.

TAPPER: And your brother was wounded?

OTIS: He was.

TAPPER: What happened?

OTIS: From what I have been told, Lopez came in, and he shot the first guy he saw and killed him and then turned the gun on my brother. And he was shot four times. I think one was a graze, a graze shot. But he was shot four times totally. So this is what I'm thinking and I'm trying to get up here now so I can see for myself.

TAPPER: All right. Your brother has been discharged, and I'm assuming he's been given something of a clean bill of health? We're all thinking and praying about him right now.

OTIS: Yes, that is correct.

BALDWIN: All right. Armetra Otis, thank you for speaking with us. We certainly wish your brother a very speedy recovery.

OTIS: Thank you so much for that.

TAPPER: The search for a motive, that aspect of human nature that makes us need to understand, to comprehend why this happened.

This is what is keeping the shooter's name in the headlines, but the focus ultimately must be on the lives that he took and the lives he forever changed. Now we know the names of all three men shot and killed at Fort Hood. Sergeant Carlos Rodriguez, he was from Puerto Rico, and enlisted as soon as he could at age 18 after serving 20 years. He was reportedly planning to retire soon from the military. Sergeant Rodriguez was 38 years old.

Sergeant Timothy Owens was an Army counselor who had served in Iraq. A native of Illinois, Owens had just gotten married in August. He had two children through earlier relationships. He was 37.

And Sergeant Danny Ferguson seen here in a Facebook photo with his fiancee, Ferguson had just returned from Afghanistan. His fiancee, who is also a soldier, said Ferguson was killed trying to hold a door shut to stop the shooter and, in doing so, she says he likely saved lives.


KRISTEN HALEY, FIANCEE OF VICTIM: He held that door shut because there's no locks. Those doors are like -- it seems like they would be bulletproof, but apparently are not. If he was not being the one against that door holding, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else.


TAPPER: It's too late, sadly, to thank Sergeants Rodriguez, Owens, and Ferguson for their service, so perhaps we should thank their families for their sacrifices.

As all of us struggle to make sense of the tragedy, investigators are trying to piece together key details about Specialist Ivan Lopez that might explain what ultimately set him off.

I want to bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, Lopez had previously been station at Fort Bliss. Were there any clues from his time there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, Jake, this is what the Army is looking at now.

He had only arrived at Fort Hood several weeks ago, so they are going back. What was going on in his tour at Fort Bliss before he moved to Hood? Had he had problems there? Had he had mental illness challenges? Was he getting medication? Was he being treated there?

One of the key questions is, it has been publicly said by officials he was on multiple prescription drugs. Could some of those drugs have been prescribed to him back at Bliss? Could they have been so strong that maybe he should have been monitored more closely for stability? These are the questions that they are looking at.

Now, that takes us to part two. He was at Bliss. He moved to Hood a few weeks ago. By all accounts, he had other challenges when he got to Hood. It's a huge base. Even soldiers in the best mental frame of mind often find the base potentially overwhelming because of the sheer size and the number of people there.

A U.S. military official tells us that one of the things they are looking at was how Lopez adjusted to being in a place like Hood. He had a new job as a truck driver. He had a new chain of command. He was getting -- trying to get settled into housing. All of these things add to stress.

It's the issue of, did all of this just become too many triggers, too overwhelming, too much for someone that was in a fragile state of mind and clearly was on multiple medications for what the Army says was depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance? And you will remember that yesterday the commanding general said there was evidence of unstable psychiatric conditions, so did the medical staff at Hood even know his state when he got there, Jake?

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD, we're awaiting a live press conference from Fort Hood on the latest on this investigation. We will bring that to you as soon as it starts.

Plus, after a mass shooting, politicians then to give a lot of lip service to improving mental health care. Many don't actually follow through. Our next guest is an exception. Would his legislation keep something like this from happening again?

Plus, the search for Flight 370 enters a new phase, but the families of those on board are no closer to an answer. They're demanding to know, was there a cover-up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, thank you. And Mr. Chris Gray, the spokesman for U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.

TAPPER: We're now bringing to you live the press conference from Fort Hood. Let's listen in.

LT. GEN. MARK MILLEY, U.S. ARMY: Thank you all for your flexibility in changing locations.

We were all having a difficult time hearing yesterday with some of the traffic and the wind and I appreciate your flexibility.

I would like to give you a short update on the incident and the investigation that happened last Wednesday. And at the end, I will allow again your opportunity to ask a few questions.

I had an opportunity this morning to visit some of the wounded again. And I just want all of you and all the community to know that we all are keeping them in our thoughts and prayers, both the fallen and the wounded, and their families as they go through this grieving process and in this difficult time and that Fort Hood and all of our leadership will be there with them throughout.

We have completed the next of kin notification on the three fallen soldiers. And I can now confirm publicly their identities, two of the soldiers from the 49th Transportation Battalion and one of the killed victims is from the First Medical Brigade.

Sergeant 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, age 39 from Mulberry, Florida, entered active service in July 1993 as a transportation management coordinator. He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion of the Fourth Sustainment Brigade of the 13th Sustainment Command.

And he was a transportation supervisor. His deployments include Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Staff Sergeant Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, 38, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, entered active duty service in February 1995 as a unit supply specialist. He was assigned to the 21st Combat Support Hospital of the First Medical Brigade in February 2012, where he served as a unit supply sergeant. He deployed to Kuwait and also to Iraq.

Sergeant Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, of Effingham, Illinois, entered active duty service in July 2004 as a motor transport operator. He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion, Fourth Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, where he served as a heavy vehicle driver. He deployed to Iraq and to Kuwait.

Their releasable service records will be available to you at the later on this evening.

We will memorialize all three of these fallen soldiers next Wednesday and our public affairs office will publish the details in the coming days. They will be available to all of you.

Also available later this evening, we are putting together a mapper for you, a simple map and diagram of the incident site, to include a basic sequence of events as we understand them now. They will be very basic, not to the level of detail of an investigation that is still ongoing, but very basic to help you orient on where this event occurred.

In regards to the injured soldiers that we visited this morning, I have had the opportunity both yesterday and today to visit all of the injured soldiers at Darnall and Scott & White. We still have three remaining soldiers at Scott & White and three here at Darnall on Fort Hood.

They're all strong. Each of them is resilient. Their families are resilient, and I had an opportunity to meet with some of their families and they're dealing very well with a difficult situation and we all look forward and pray for their full recovery.

Ten soldiers of the original 16 have now been released from hospital and returned to duty. And I as a commander, as a soldier, am incredibly impressed by the medical professionals at both Scott & White, Darnall, and the entire response to the Fort Hood emergency responders and the community at large.

As you know, there's a lot more details beyond what I've given you in the last couple of days and much of those details are not releasable to the public at this time because we do have an ongoing investigation. However, I do want to clarify two points specific to Specialist Lopez's medical condition.

First, we are digging into his combat experience in Iraq. And so far, we have not discovered any specific traumatic event, wounds received in action, contact with the enemy or anything else specific that he may have been exposed to while deployed. But we are continuing to examine this line of inquiry.

Secondly, his underlying medical conditions, we do not believe, are the direct precipitating factor to the incident. His underlying medical conditions are not the direct precipitating factor. We believe that the immediate precipitating factor was more likely an escalating argument in his unit area. But we're still conducting that detailed investigation and we will address every single one of the causal and contributing factors that resulted in this horrible tragedy.

As you know, the investigation team here is robust in its multiagency. Right now, we have almost 80 FBI agents working with us and forensic specialists. Over 20 Texas rangers are contributing to the investigation and almost 50 U.S. Army CID agents and, of course, our Fort Hood, MPI, military police investigation teams, and our local law enforcement detectives from Killeen and Harker Heights.

Additionally, we have medical investigations on hand to assist. And altogether we have over 150 professionally trained investigators from federal, state, and local agencies. I will leave all of the further details of ongoing and criminal investigations to the law enforcement agencies and health care professionals and at this point I would like to introduce Colonel Mike Dolata. He's the commander of the sixth military police group, CID, who is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord up at Washington state, and also, Mr. Chris Grey from CID and they will briefly now review the status of the investigation.

After their comments, we will entertain questions.



Good afternoon. My name is Chris Grey. I'm a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command base out of Quantico, Virginia and the multiagency task force led by Army CID here at Fort Hood into the tragic shootings of the incident that took place on Wednesday.

I'm here today to provide you with an update with an investigative update on record to the ongoing criminal investigation. Unfortunately, and as you know, we lost four soldiers on Wednesday to include the shooter was one of those soldiers. That number includes 16 others who were wounded. On behalf of all law enforcement working this case, both civilian and military, let me express my sincere condolences to the loved ones, to families, to soldiers and the friends of the wounded and killed in this tragic incident. I will be providing as much releasable information as possible today, but please keep in mind this is an ongoing criminal investigation and we are only releasing facts at this point that we feel confident will not jeopardize the ongoing case.

As you know, the Fort Hood director of emergency services, the military police, Army CID and a host of other law enforcement professionals again responding to reports that shots fired at approximately 4:16 p.m. on Wednesday. Numerous reports of gunfire and wounded personnel were received and it continued at various locations which contributed to the chaos and confusion associated with the initial reports.

The alleged shooter, specialist Ivan Lopez, initially opened fire with a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handgun near the intersection of 72nd Street and Tank Destroyer Boulevard. The entire crime scene encompasses an almost two city block area. We have credible information that he was involved in a verbal altercation with soldiers from his unit just prior to the alleged -- to him allegedly opening fire. The subject then proceeded to travel to two other nearby buildings, entering those locations and opening fire.

In transit to those locations, while in his personal vehicle, he indiscriminately fired at soldiers while moving from one location to another. At this time, we are still gathering evidence and processing a very large crime scene, so we will not be giving you a time -- step- by-step timeline of the activity in the investigation.

The alleged shooter encountered a responding military police officer and approached her. Subsequently, there was a verbal exchange between the two. The military police officer drew her assigned firearm and fired one round when the subject brandished his weapon. We do not believe the subject was struck, but we are currently confirming that fact with the armed forces medical examiner.

Based on witness statement and other testimonial evidence to date, the alleged shooter then placed his firearm to his own head and fired one round killing himself. Those actions by the alleged subject and the military police officer are obviously part of the ongoing investigation. At this time we have the one alleged subject connected to this shooting and all evidence at this point in the investigation indicates that the subject acted alone in the actual shootings. We have no evidence thus far that contradicts that finding but it's critical to point out that we are not ruling anything in or out at this early stage of the investigation, and we will continue to aggressively pursue any and all credible leads and information associated with this case.

There were initial reports that there were possibly two shooters involved on Wednesday. But that has been attributed to the chaotic nature of the situation and the alleged shooter's movement from location to location as I described earlier.

Additionally, we have not found any links to terrorism or any international or domestic or extremist groups at this time. But again, we have not completely ruled that out in order to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.

Within the large crime scene I described, there are three significant crime scenes inside buildings, and three areas outdoors that we are focusing our case on. Those scenes are currently being processed by highly trained CID special agents, Texas Rangers, and members of the FBI's elite evidence response team. That processing includes evidence collection, crime scene recreation, triangulation of evidence, studying the flight of the bullets fired and 3D scanning of the crime scene.

To date, we have canvassed and interviewed more than 900 people during the course of this investigation. Immediately following the shootings, CID along with the assistance from the military police and outside agencies took positive control and screened more than 1,000 potential witnesses and possible suspects in the immediate vicinity before releasing them back to their unit. At this point in the investigation, we have well over 150 special agents from Army CID, FBI, and the ATF, as the general mentioned, as well as the Texas Rangers.

The weapon allegedly used in the commission of these crimes has been recovered as evidence and we'll be processing that at the Defense Forensic Science Centers, U.S. Army criminal laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia. We will conduct firearms forensics and ballistics, testings to determine that the shots fired came from that specific weapon.

We have also confirmed through our investigation that Specialist Lopez purchased the firearm recovered at the crime scene on March 1st. From a local establishment outside Fort Hood, but brought it on to Fort Hood in violation of DOD, Army, and Fort Hood regulations.

We have not uncovered any history of criminal convictions or previous criminal activity by Specialist Lopez. At this time, we have not established a concrete motive but we will do everything in our power to do so. Given that the alleged shooter is deceased, the possibility does exist that we may never know exactly why the alleged shooter did what he did but, again, we are bringing the very latest technology and investigative methods in an attempt to find out.

Finally, since Wednesday's incident, we have received tremendous support from fellow law enforcement officials and the greater Fort Hood community, both inside and outside the gate. Army CID would especially like to thank the following agencies for their team work and professionalism during this very difficult time. The FBI, the ATF, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers, the Fort Hood director of emergency services, the Killeen Police Department, the Harker Heights Police Department, Coryell County sheriff's office and the Temple Police Department.

We'd also like to thank Lieutenant General Milley and his staff for the tremendous support and cooperation while we are conducting our investigation.

Let me assure you, we are fully committed to this investigation.

That concludes my update for today. We are not releasing any further details. I appreciate your patience and understanding during this very, very difficult time. Thank you.

MILLEY: We'll take just a few questions. And then we're not going to do a press conference tomorrow, Saturday nor Sunday. We'll do one again on Monday. We will not do one Tuesday, memorial service is Wednesday, and then the next one after that will be on Thursday.

We will not do a press conference at the memorial service. There may be some visitors show up and may be a chance to do press availability at that time. But there'll be no press conference. The next press conference is Monday and the one after that will be Thursday.

At this time, I'd be happy to entertain some questions.

Let me start over here. Go ahead.

REPORTER: How many shots were fired? Do you know?

MILLEY: Mr. Grey?

GREY: That's part of the investigation. That's -- we're looking at that.

REPORTER: Is his wife cooperating with you and what is she --

GREY: I'm not going to reveal that information right now. That's part of the investigation. We don't discuss -- we don't discuss witnesses, victims, that type of thing.

REPORTER: General, Mr. Grey, do you have any sense of what precipitated this argument?

GREY: That's -- again, that's part of the ongoing investigation.

REPORTER: Were any of those soldiers victims of the shooting?

GREY: Yes, they were.

REPORTER: Mr. Grey, (INAUDIBLE) report, that Specialist Lopez came in for a leave form (INAUDIBLE)

GREY: Again, that's all part of the ongoing investigation and when we can we will release that information. We want to make sure that we have all of the facts correct. Everyone's rights are protected and we get it right the first time. So our investigation continues.

REPORTER: General, yesterday you said no soldiers were specifically targeted and now we're told that some of the victims were people that he was having an altercation with. Is there any revision of what you told us yesterday?

MILLEY: No, there's no -- I'll let Mr. Grey override me in a moment but there's no indication of previous specific targeting of a specific individual. So that remains true.

REPORTER: Even the people that he was involved in with the verbal altercation?

MILLEY: That's right. GREY: That's -- as you know, that's how an investigation progresses. We uncover new information as we investigate. That's why I confirmed that.

REPORTER: Can you talk in general about what the altercation was about?

GREY: No, I cannot. That's part of the ongoing investigation.

REPORTER: Just a follow-up, to make sure that we're clear, you said that some of the people that were involved in the altercation were victims.

GREY: Correct.

REPORTER: But you're not saying that they were targets. (INAUDIBLE)

MILLEY: Yes, there was no premeditated target of an individual in the sense of walking into specifically target a specific individual. There's no indication of that.

There was an argument. It escalated. The details of which will be discussed at a later point once the investigation is completed.

REPORTER: It escalated and then the shooting.

MILLEY: That's correct.


GREY: I'm sorry?

REPORTER: Were any of those soldiers involved in the altercation severely (ph) wounded?

GREY: I'd have to check that fact for you.

REPORTER: Did Lopez have a meeting with superiors about the leave of absence on Wednesday?

MILLEY: I don't know that. I don't think you know that. I don't know that for certain. Don't know that one.

GREY: And again, what I gave you during my briefing, that's all we're releasing at this point. We're not getting into the details obviously for the ongoing investigation. I'm not giving any more specifics.

So, if you have specific questions about the investigation, I'm going to have to come back to, we're not answering that at this point.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) the policy and procedure that you're now ordering as a result of this regard that could have prevented (INAUDIBLE) extra personnel with side arms assigned (ph) in every building?

MILLEY: We have a standard operating procedures. Most military installations throughout the Army have a set of policies and regulations that we all follow. We have random access measures, security locations that require extra security, et cetera, et cetera.

We are reviewing all of those and I have not issued specific instructions to make any changes to those at this time. We have adjusted some of the -- within the existing SOPs, we have increased some of the force protection measures here. Though temporary in nature, you saw, we shut down the base.