Three young soldiers were fatally shot while protecting civilian nurses hiding under a desk during last year's deadly rampage at Fort Hood, witnesses testified Tuesday at a military hearing for the Army psychiatrist charged with the shootings.
"All three of these kids just stood their ground. They didn't flinch. They weren't afraid of him," Theodore Coukoulis, a nurse who worked in a medical building on the Army post, said at the Article 32 hearing. "All three looked directly at the shooter. They were looking at death and they knew it."
The hearing will determine if Maj. Nidal Hasan charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder should stand trial for the Nov. 5 shootings.
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Shemaka Hairston, another nurse who worked in the building, testified the three soldiers stood around the desk as she and several other civilian workers hid underneath. She said they were wearing scrubs, not Army combat uniforms like the dozens of 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.
Among the 13 killed, only one was a civilian: Michael Grant Cahill, a physician assistant who was shot after trying to hit the gunman with a chair, according to testimony. All the wounded were soldiers.
Coukoulis said he heard the slow, deliberate steps as the gunman walked around, stopping in one area "because there was nobody left to shoot." 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.
Sgt. 1st Class Ingar Campbell testified that after running out of her office when the gunfire finally stopped, she saw a wounded DeCrow and tried to revive him, but "he died in my arms."
Coukoulis and Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra, a manager of the building where soldiers get vaccines and other medical tests before deployment, both said they recognized Hasan as the gunman because about a week before the shooting, the major had been uncooperative while discussing vaccinations at the medical center.
Several witnesses at the hearing have said the gunman in an Army combat uniform shouted "Allahu Akbar!" "God is great!" in Arabic then opened fired in the crowded building.
Guerra said that the shooter reloaded three times before moving from the front area, "in one motion, dropping a magazine and up came another one." After the rampage ended, Guerra locked the doors to make sure the gunman would not come back inside, and she saw the carnage amid the room darkened by thick smoke from the gunfire.
"All I saw was soldiers, just bodies all over the floor bodies and blood," she testified. "No one was moving."
Hasan has attended each day of the hearing, now in it's 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.
On Tuesday, the court heard two recordings of 911 calls: one by Hairston, who could be heard breathing heavily amid the screams and rapid series of gunshots in the background.
"The shooter just came in and shot soldiers and started shooting!" a frantic Hairston told the 911 operator.
The facility's chief nurse, Regina Huseman, also called 911 while barricaded inside her office.
"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 said.
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 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.