At a memorial service for victims of last week’s fatal shootings at Fort Hood, President Obama told the families of the three soldiers who were killed by one of their colleagues that risks to safety could never be completely eliminated, but that more could be done to address mental health issues among members of the military.
Obama commended the parents of the three dead soldiers – Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez, Sgt.Timothy Owens and Sgt. First Class Daniel Ferguson – saying: “I know that the men and soldiers they became, their sense of service and their patriotism, so much of that came from you.”
“To the parents of these men — as a father, I cannot begin to fathom your anguish,” Obama said. “But I know that you poured your love and your hopes into your sons. You gave your sons to America, and just as you will honor them always, so, too, will the nation that they served.”
In the shooting rampage, Spc. Ivan Lopez also injured 16 others before he killed himself with his .45-caliber pistol when he was confronted by a female military police officer, who fired at him once but missed.
“It was love for country that inspired these three Americans to put on the uniform and join the greatest Army that the world has ever known,” Obama said of Owens, Lazaney-Rodriguez, and Ferguson.
“And Danny and Carlos joined two decades ago, in a time of peace, and stayed as the nation went to war,” Obama said. “Timothy joined after 9/11, knowing he could be sent into harm’s way. Between them, they deployed nine times. Each served in Iraq.”
“For Danny, said his fiancée, being in the Army ‘was his life,’” Obama said. “Carlos, said a friend, was ‘the epitome of what you would want a leader to be in the Army.’ Timothy helped counsel his fellow soldiers. Said a friend, ‘He was always the person you could go talk to.’”
During a news conference Monday, Army spokesman Chris Grey said the shootings at the Texas post followed an argument related to Lopez's request for taking leave, but he didn't indicate whether it was granted or describe circumstances behind the request.
A spokesman for Lopez's family said last week that Lopez was upset he was granted only a 24-hour leave to attend his mother's funeral in November. That leave was then extended to two days.
The memorial was yet another sad observance for a president who has delivered words of consolation across the nation many times during his years in office. At Fort Hood, the ceremony was made more poignant as a remembrance for soldiers who didn't die in wars abroad but in the safety of their own compound.
The memorial took place at the same spot where Obama eulogized victims of another mass shooting in 2009.
Those close to Obama say he sees his role after a tragedy as fulfilling a ministerial function for the nation. Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser and longtime friend, said although it's painful for Obama, he understands the importance for the president to show leadership, empathy and strength in times of crisis, and for him to spend time with each family member affected.
"It's hard because it's deeply personal for him," Jarrett said in an interview. "He identifies as a father, as a husband, as a son, as a family member."
In attendance were members of the Texas congressional delegation, including Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also attended.
To be sure, Obama is not the first president called on to help Americans in their grief. Ronald Reagan had the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Bill Clinton had Oklahoma City and George W. Bush had 9/11, to say nothing of the wars that American troops have fought overseas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.