FORT HOOD, Texas — Unarmed soldiers caught up in a deadly shooting rampage as they prepared to deploy from Fort Hood reacted as though they'd already reached a combat zone, playing dead to avoid gunfire and refusing to leave fallen comrades behind, according to testimony Thursday at a military hearing.
Most took just moments to realize the chaos of gunfire, smoke and a weapon's laser flashing across walls and bodies was not a drill, and their survival instincts and training kicked in.
"I laid back down on the ground and played dead," Spc. Alan Carroll, who was shot several times in the Nov. 5 attack, testified via video link from Kandahar, Afghanistan. "I tried to get up again and was shot again in the leg. I was holding my breath, trying not to move.... If I was moving, I thought he would come to me."
The Article 32 hearing will determine whether Maj. Nidal Hasan, who has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, should stand trial. Prosecutors have not said whether they would seek the death penalty.
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On the second day of the hearing, several witnesses again said Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" —"God is Great!" in Arabic — before unleashing a volley of gunfire in a center where soldiers undergo medical tests before deploying. They testified that Hasan started firing toward a crowded waiting area, then walked around and shot soldiers trying to hide under desks, chairs or tables and paused only to reload.
In the days after last year's shooting, reports emerged that the 40-year-old American-born Muslim had been trying to get out of his pending deployment because he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, who nearly died in the attack, testified Thursday that he knows soldiers helped him after he was shot once in the head and three other times, then tried to crawl to safety and lost consciousness.
Carroll said he tried to concentrate on helping his friend, Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, who had been shot in the neck. Carroll said he could have reached the door but refused to escape the bloodshed without Nemelka, "because I'd been told never leave a fallen comrade. That's what was going through my mind."