FORT HOOD, Texas – Three young soldiers were fatally shot while protecting civilian nurses hiding underneath a desk during last year's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, according to testimony at a military hearing Tuesday.
"All three of these kids just stood their ground. They didn't flinch. They weren't afraid of him," Theodore Coukoulis told the Article 32 hearing. "All three looked directly at the shooter. They were looking at death and they knew it."
Coukoulis, who was working in the Fort Hood medical building Nov. 5, said all three died in the attack that day — the worst mass shooting at an American military base.
The hearing will determine if Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan — charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder — should stand trial.
Shemaka Hairston, another nurse who worked in the building, testified Tuesday that the three soldiers stood around the desk as she and several others hid underneath. She said they were wearing scrubs, not Army combat uniforms like the other soldiers there that day.
Coukoulis, who was crouching nearby, said the shooter walked past the desk and instead shot the three soldiers. The prosecutor asked if he was sure the gunman saw the civilian staffers, to which Coukoulis replied, "Yes."
Based on various soldiers' testimony about where the 13 victims were in the building that day, the three soldiers were Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow, 32; Spc. Jason Dean "J.D." Hunt, 22; and Pfc. Michael Pearson, 22.
Hiding in the back of the building when the gunfire started, Coukoulis later heard the gunman's slow, deliberate steps as he walked around, stopping in one area "because there was nobody left to shoot." He testified that the spent rounds of ammunition had become stuck in the tread of the shooter's boots.
"You could hear the 'clack, clack, clack,' as you could hear the 'bang, bang, bang,' of the gunfire," Coukoulis said, adding that the rampage lasted about 10 minutes.
He stood up and identified Hasan in court as the gunman. He said he recognized Hasan that day because about a week before the shooting, the major had been uncooperative during a conversation about vaccinations at the medical center.
Hasan has attended every day of the hearing, now in its second week, in a wheelchair. The 40-year-old American-born Muslim is paralyzed from the waist down from police gunfire that ended the onslaught.
Earlier Tuesday, the court heard a recording of a 911 call made by the facility's chief nurse, who was barricaded inside her office throughout the shooting.
In the recording, Regina Huseman's description of the events unfolding outside her office are punctuated by the sound of gunfire and muffled cries for help.
"He's coming back in! He's got all of us! He's still walking around. ... I don't know where he is," the clearly terrified Huseman can be heard saying.
Once the shooting ended, Huseman emerged from her office and surveyed the devastation wrought at the center where soldiers undergo medical tests before deployment.
"Oh my God! There are about 15 down, probably more than that," she told the 911 operator.
The operator asked if the gunman was dead.
"I don't know, but I have got to start helping these people," Huseman said.
The nurse wiped away tears as she told the court how she walked around inside the building, checking for signs of life among the bodies on the floor and one slumped on a chair.
Several witnesses at the hearing have pointed to Hasan as the balding major in Army combat uniform who shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — "God is great!" in Arabic — then opened fired on unarmed military and civilian personnel in the crowded building.
Staff Sgt. Michael "Chad" Davis testified Tuesday that he was shot in the back as he crawled from beneath a desk. Under cross-examination, he told defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe that he didn't see the shooter because he was behind a cubicle partition, and that the bullet may have pierced the cubicle wall before hitting him.
"I'm pretty sure there was no direct line of sight, so he (Hasan) heard people over there or it was a ricochet," Davis said.
At some point after the hearing, Col. James L. Pohl, the investigating officer in the case, will recommend whether Hasan should go to trial. That decision — and whether the Army will seek the death penalty — ultimately will be made by Fort Hood's commanding general.
Hasan remains jailed. There is no bail in the military justice system.