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.
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 only paused 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 Nov. 5 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.
"I was in serious trouble. There was a pool of my own blood on the ground in front of me," said Zeigler, who testified after walking into court slowly with a cane, a large scar visible across his head. He said surgeons had to remove about 20 percent of his brain.
Spc. Grant Moxon told the court Thursday he played dead after being shot, then made his away behind a counter where other soldiers had ducked for cover. He said he leaned across his squadron leader in hopes of protecting the already wounded man from the onslaught of bullets. The squadron leader survived.
"He was bleeding pretty badly. He was my squadron leader. I kind of tried to help him," said Moxon, a member of the 467th Medical Detachment that had arrived at Fort Hood a day earlier. Hasan was supposed to deploy with the 467th.
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."
Nemelka, Carroll and two other buddies, Spc. Frederick Greene and Pfc. Michael Pearson, had been chatting about their upcoming deployment while waiting in line for routine tests.
Carroll was the only one of the four who survived the attack.
Staff Sgt. Joy Clark, a medic, testified that one of two friends with her that day, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, pulled her to the ground when the gunfire erupted. Lying on the floor as smoke filled the air and the gunman kept shooting, Clark called her friends' names, then checked their pulses. Warman and Capt. Russell Seager and had been fatally shot.
Amid the chaos Sgt. Rodger Winston dashed behind a partition where several soldiers were hiding, he testified. The 6-foot-3 Winston said he peered over the partition and told his comrades where the gunman was moving so they could stay out of harm's way — and then led the group outside after seeing Hasan chase a man out the back door.
"I told them, 'He's gone! He's gone! He's gone!' And we moved out the front door," Winston said.
Pfc. Najee Hull said a "battle buddy" carried him to safety when he fell outside after finally escaping. Hull, who was shot in the knee and back, said the gunman had carried two weapons — one "with a red laser on it" and one with a green laser.
Hull has been the only witness in two days to testify to seeing two guns, while the rest said they saw one weapon or only heard gunfire. Initial witness reports said the shooter had two guns and took some 100 shots at about 300 people in the building.
At one point during Thursday's hearing, Hasan wrote and scribbled on a pad. As witnesses testified, he looked on intently as he sat in his wheelchair, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders over his Army combat uniform. Hasan has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers shot him during the attack. He remains jailed in nearby Bell County Jail.