LILLINGTON, N.C. — Alonzo Lunsford has trouble getting out of chairs and warns his family to wake him gently. Kathy Platoni can’t shake the image of the man who died in a pool of blood at her knees. Shawn Manning still has two bullets in his body and gets easily unnerved by crowds.
Survivors of the 2009 shooting rampage that claimed the lives of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas fight these demons daily.
Now after years of delay, they will come face to face with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who goes on trial in the attack starting Tuesday. After dismissing his attorneys, Hasan got permission to represent himself, putting him in the unusual position of asking questions of the very people he admits targeting.
Hasan, a Muslim who argues he was protecting the Taliban from American aggression, was shot by a civilian police officer and is now in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the abdomen down.
Manning dreads the courtroom confrontation.
“I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,” said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. “I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.”
Lunsford — a now-retired staff sergeant who was shot seven times — relishes the thought of staring at Hasan and telling him that he did not win. Like Manning, he carries two bullets with him — one in a small wooden box, the other in his back.
“That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again,” he said as he sat on his porch in Lillington, rubbing the shiny slug between his fingers.
Platoni just hopes she can keep her composure enough to support the family of Capt. John Gaffaney, the friend and soldier who died next to her.
The families of people who were killed struggle with a roller coaster of emotions, too.
Eduardo Caraveo, whose father, Libardo Eduardo Caraveo, died, took a few weeks of leave from his job as a prison supervisor to deal with his emotions ahead of the trial.
“You’re going to hear stuff ... that you don’t know how you’re going to take,” he said.
Joleen Cahill, whose husband, Mike Cahill, was shot six times after he lifted a chair to try to stop Hasan, has struggled with the loneliness of an empty house. Now she wants to ensure that her anger doesn’t take over during the trial.
“I want to be the one in control here, not him,” she said.
In the large hall where troops were preparing for upcoming deployments, everyone was unarmed. Everyone except Hasan.
Then in an instant, lives were changed forever.
The memories are “there all the time when I’m not otherwise actively engaged in patients or doing gardening,” Platoni said. “It’s something that haunts me constantly.”
About 10 minutes after the shooting started, the horror ended. And another began.
A few hope that Hasan receives the death penalty.
“The same way he tried to kill us. Or, if he wants to be put to death, and he wants to follow Islamic law, then he can be put to death according to Islamic law, which is by stoning,” Lunsford said. “I would love to be the first one, to throw the first pitch. That would be a joy. But we’re better than that as a people. We don’t do that.”
Staff Sgt. Joy Clark of the 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment takes a moment to run her fingers over the engravings of the names of her fellow soldiers at a ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting in 2010.×
FILE- In this Nov. 10, 2009, file photo, soldiers salute as they honor victims of the Fort Hood shooting at a memorial service at Fort Hood, Texas. Maj. Nidal Hasan will stand trial, in a court-martial that starts Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, for the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 people dead and more than 30 people wounded on Nov. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam, File)×