Guns, death and tears put Fort Hood in global spotlight, again

FORT HOOD, Texas Thu Apr 3, 2014 8:58pm EDT

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FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - At the home of the largest Army base in the United States, the people who bask in the pride of serving the country in wars abroad and are now reeling from blood being spilled in their backyard in the third mass shooting in about 20 years.

The troubled soul-searching that took place when former Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan shot dead 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood in 2009 was rekindled when another soldier shot dead three people on Wednesday before taking his own life.

"It's devastating. We can't believe it happened again," said a restaurant manager who asked to be called Christy.

Many in Killeen, a town of well-worn American flags, pawnshops and businesses that cater to the some 45,000 military personnel assigned to the base, were tight-lipped about being thrust in the global spotlight for the second time in five years because of a deadly shooting rampage.

Those who have been in Killeen a little longer can remember when George Hennard, who served two years in the U.S. Navy, rammed his pickup truck through the plate-glass door of a chain restaurant named Luby's in 1991, opening fire and killing 23 in one of the deadliest mass civilian shootings in the country.

Crystal Wheeler worked at that Luby's until a few months before the incident and said the shooting by Hasan seemed to strike hard because it was perpetrated by someone stationed at Fort Hood - the town's family.

"It hit close to the military's house," she said, adding the town may stop but it comes back from each tragedy.

"You pray for those who lost someone or got injured. You do what you can to help. Then we carry on."

The base is often called the biggest employer in Texas, a state with a $1.4 trillion economy that is larger than South Korea's.

The soldiers at Fort Hood for decades have been on the frontlines of America's wars abroad and held up by the state's politicians as representing the best aspects of America's dignity, loyalty and dedication to service.

Nearly every storefront has some visible sign of patriotism, from a hand-painted poster saying "God Bless Our Troops" to a sign offering a discount on haircuts for service members. Flags lowered to half staff serve as a marker that this community is once again in mourning.

"It's emotional for all of us. These are members of our community and whenever things happen, it hurts us all. It is like they are family," Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin told broadcaster CNN.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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