Family friends of suspected Fort Hood shooter Ivan Lopez told the American-Statesman on Thursday that the soldier was upset at the recent deaths of his mother and grandfather and may have felt conflicted about his role in the Iraq war because of his religious convictions.
His mother, Carmen, a nurse, died of a heart attack in November in Lopez’s native Puerto Rico. A month earlier, his grandfather had passed away.
“It had a big impact. It surely had to do with his psychological state,” said family friend Glidden Lopez Torres, speaking from Guayanilla, Puerto Rico.
Lopez-Torres said given his strict Catholic upbringing, Lopez may have also been conflicted about his participation in the war. “One never knows the repercussions going to war can have in a particular individual,” he said.
A childhood friend told the Nuevo Dia newspaper in Puerto Rico that Lopez was also upset that Army leaders only gave him a 24-hour leave to attend his mother’s funeral. The friend said that more recently Lopez had had an argument with someone at Fort Hood and may have been robbed.
According to Fort Hood officials, Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety and being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He also told his superiors he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
U.S. Army officials said Lopez, 34, joined the Puerto Rican National Guard in 1999, when he would have been 19 or 20 years old. He served overseas in the mid-1990s, on a “peace and security” mission to Egypt.
Reports of when he left the national guard differ, but military officials said Lopez enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2008. Officials said he served in Iraq for a four-month period in 2011; however, they added, he did not see combat, but rather was a truck driver.
While Lopez’s tour to Iraq was unusually short – most deployments at that time were 9 to 12 months – personnel records show Lopez didn’t deploy until August that year, according to a Pentagon source. The source added that the time frame indicates Lopez’s tour likely was cut short by its mission, not necessarily by any personnel issues. As a military truck driver, Lopez would have been in high demand at the end of 2011 as U.S. forces moved massive amounts of equipment and personnel out of the country.
Military spokesmen said the Lopez family had transferred from Fort Bliss, outside of El Paso, to Fort Hood two months ago.
Those who know him in his hometown remembered Lopez as a quiet student and school band member, attending Catholic schools and marrying his childhood sweetheart.
“We never had a discipline problem with him,” Edgardo Arrequin Velez, Lopez’s former teacher and currently mayor of Guayanilla told the American-Statesman on Thursday morning. “Never, never.”
“Ivan and his family are beloved here in Guayanilla,” added Evelio Brocco, who works for the mayor. “Our condolences go to the family of Ivan and the families of the people who were hurt in this tragic event.”
Velez, who taught Lopez in sixth grade, described him as a quiet student from a well-known local family — Ivan shares his father’s name — known for its musical talent. Ivan played drums in the school band.
He married a childhood friend after they both graduated from high school and had two children, Velez said. The mayor added that although Lopez’s wife moved to the U.S. when he joined the Army, she moved back to Puerto Rico when they split up.
He apparently had remarried, according to various media reports.
News of the shooting left La Garita restaurant, a gathering place for Killeen’s Puerto Rican population, unusually quiet Thursday afternoon.
“Today is a sad day, and people are sad,” said Hector Torrez, the co-owner of the restaurant, which sits just beyond Fort Hood’s east gate. He and another patron said they could not recall Ivan Lopez stopping by the place or reaching out to the Puerto Rican community.
“He was only here (in Killeen) a short time. He may have eaten here, but if he did I didn’t see him,” Torrez said. “I’m sure he would have eaten here. For it to be Puerto Rican, it’s sad, but of course, really, him being Puerto Rican had nothing to do with what happened.”