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Loved ones of Fort Hood victims describe devastation caused by shootings

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 8:24 a.m. CDT

(MCT) FORT HOOD, Texas — When she needed to hear his voice, Angela Rivera would call his cellphone.

For more than three years after Maj. Eduardo Caraveo, 52, was killed in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting rampage, Rivera kept her husband’s account going so she wouldn’t lose his outgoing message. “My only comfort was to call his cellphone to hear his voice,” Rivera said Monday during the sentencing hearing of convicted Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.

But then a couple of weeks ago, the carrier updated its voicemail system, and the message was lost forever.

“I was saving that for (our young son),” she said through tears Monday. “He won’t remember his dad’s voice.”

Throughout an emotional morning that at times left the military police guarding the courtroom wiping their eyes, mothers, wives, fathers and sons talked about the devastation the shootings have wrought. Rivera said her 17-year-old daughter had to be hospitalized with severe depression after the shooting. Her younger daughter, 11, told her, “I just hope the guy who did this one day understands the pain he’s caused all these families.”

Hasan, who faces the death penalty, closed his eyes during the most heart-wrenching testimony and asked for frequent breaks after witnesses left the stand. After granting his first two requests, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, curtly denied his request to take an early lunch break.

The hearing was unexpectedly halted after the lunch break for what the chief prosecutor, Col. Mike Mulligan, called logistical problems. But Hasan also met with Osborn in her chambers Monday afternoon for unknown reasons.

Earlier Monday, outside of the presence of the jury, Osborn quizzed Hasan once again about his decision to defend himself during the sentencing phase.

“You understand you are staking your life on the decision you make,” she told him. He later requested time to meet with his standby military attorneys to discuss “an issue.”

The same panel of high-ranking Army officers who on Friday convicted Hasan of all 45 counts of murder and attempted murder will decide his fate.

The most difficult testimony Monday came when family members described the excruciating moment when Army notification team members arrived at their homes to tell them their loved ones had been killed. Juan Velez, the father of Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, said he rushed to his Chicago home after his son told him that two soldiers were at his door.

“I kept praying that she was only wounded,” he said through a Spanish language interpreter. “But they told me she was one of the victims. … It hurt me down to the bottom of my soul.

“He didn’t just kill 13; he killed 15,” Velez continued. “He killed my grandson, and he killed me. Slowly.”

Shoua Her, the widow of Pfc. Kham Xiong, 23, had spent the day frantically trying to get in touch with her husband, going to Fort Hood’s Army Medical Center for news of his whereabouts. At 3 a.m., the doorbell of their off-post military housing apartment rang. “My heart just dropped,” she told jurors.

“Now the other side of the bed is empty and cold,” she said. “I feel dead but alive. He was my other half, my best friend.”

Some witnesses could barely make it through their testimony. Cristi Greene, wife of Spc. Fred Greene, who was shot 12 times while charging Hasan, according to pathologists, dissolved into tears as she tried to describe what her husband’s loss meant.

“It hurts so bad … I can’t explain it. … He’s just not here anymore.” Gale Hunt, the mother of Spc. J.D. Hunt, 23, told jurors what the loss of her son has meant. “I miss his voice, his little half-crooked smile because he was too cool to smile all the way,” she said through sobs.

When Hunt finished, Hasan asked to break for lunch. Osborn ignored him and told prosecutors to call their next witness.

The morning also included testimony from soldiers wounded in the attack.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, whose remarkable recovery from a life-threatening gunshot wound to the brain was chronicled in a 2010 Austin American-Statesman special report, told jurors that his life has taken a turn for the worse.

His dream of attending Officer Candidate School, which he nurtured during his grueling rehabilitation, is gone, he told jurors.

“My military career is effectively over,” said Zeigler, who remains paralyzed on his left side and is medically retiring in October. “I’ve battled with severe depression. I’ve become very angry and irritable, and it’s affected all my relationships, really.”

He told jurors his injuries prevent him from picking up his 10-month-old son or “playing with him, interacting as a normal father would.”

Retired Pfc. Mick Engnehl, 23, said he has had difficulty finding work since leaving the Army with lingering injuries from his two gunshot wounds. He told jurors, “Nobody’s going to hire a paralyzed mechanic.”

Prosecutors plan to present at least seven more witnesses Tuesday. Hasan could give an unsworn statement and would not be subject to cross-examination.

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©2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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