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Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, shown in this courtroom sketch, testified Aug. 6, 2013, in the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan is charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009 mass shooting at a Fort Hood clinic.

Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, shown in this courtroom sketch, testified Aug. 6, 2013, in the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan is charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009 mass shooting at a Fort Hood clinic. (Sketch by Brigitte Woosley)

FORT HOOD, Texas – When she heard the gunshots, Michelle Harper thought it was firecrackers; someone was playing a joke. Seconds later, she was huddled under a desk near Pfc. Michael Pearson as he took his last breaths.

Harper had worked at the Soldier Readiness Processing center at Fort Hood for six years, drawing blood for soldiers getting ready to deploy and coming back from deployment. She was talking to a friend in the vaccination area of the center when they heard “what we believed was firecrackers.” But when they went to look, she testified Tuesday, someone yelled “get down!”

Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is charged with 13 specifications of premeditated murder and 32 specifications of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting at the SRP clinic that left 13 dead and more than 30 wounded.

Harper testified that she didn’t see the shooter inside the building. She dove for cover under a desk, along with several others, and dialed 911.

On the 911 recording, which was played Tuesday afternoon in the courtroom, Harper can be heard crying and shrieking, begging for help as the operator assures her that police and firefighters are on their way. Gunshots boom in the background, peppering the operator’s attempts to calm Harper and make sure she is safe. At one point, the fatally wounded Pearson moans loudly near the phone.

After a few tense moments, Harper managed to get out of the building and run behind a row of cars to her own vehicle, still on the 911 call, she testified. From the parking lot, she said, she saw Hasan – who she recognized from drawing his blood – and a female police officer in a gun battle.

Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford also worked in the SRP clinic, and testified Tuesday that he met Hasan a few weeks before the shooting, when both were on duty at the base hospital. The week of the shooting, Hasan came into the clinic several times, Lunsford said, passing by a dry erase board that listed the schedule of units coming through in preparation for deployment.

On Nov. 5, Lunsford said he had returned from lunch and noticed the 45-chair waiting area was at capacity – with Hasan sitting in the last chair, bent over, looking at the floor.

Hasan got up, talked to a civilian data entry clerk, and she left, Lunsford said. Then, Hasan yelled, “Allahu akbar,” reached inside his camouflage utility blouse, pulled out a weapon and began firing at the other soldiers in the waiting area.

“We’re in a state of shock at first,” Lunsford said. “It was a state of panic.”

Lunsford stayed calm and composed on the stand as he described how he went into “an E and E mode, escape and evasion.”

Lunsford’s friend, retired soldier Michael Cahill, tried to hit Hasan with a chair, he said, but Hasan shot and killed him. Several soldiers in the waiting area tried to hide behind the scattered folding chairs, while others crowded near the back doors, trying desperately to get out, Lunsford said.

Meanwhile, Lunsford crouched behind a counter, plotting a sprint to the exit. He glanced behind him, and “as I’m checking my six, Major Hasan is turning the laser on me.” “The laser goes across my line of sight and I blink… the first round, I’m hit in the head,” Lunsford said. “I’m trying to low crawl to get behind a desk, and I’m hit in the back.”

Lunsford couldn’t see out of his left eye because of all the blood from his head wound, he said, but he managed to get outside – where Hasan shot him five more times.

Hasan chose not to question Harper, Lunsford, or most of the other witnesses who testified Tuesday, the first day of his court-martial. Hasan, who is representing himself, could face the death penalty if convicted.

In his brief opening statement, a bearded Hasan told jurors “the evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” but said the “evidence presented will only show one side.”

Hasan referred to himself as part of the Mujahedeen and said they are “imperfect Muslims, trying to establish the perfect religion. I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor.”

Mohamed Salim, a man Hasan knew from the Killeen Islamic Center, said he saw Hasan the morning of Nov. 5 and that he had said he “was going on a journey.” He also asked Salim to excuse any wrongs Hasan may have done to him.

“I didn’t find it very odd, I knew he was deploying,” Salim testified Tuesday. “I thought maybe he was going home, that he was just saying goodbye. … It made a difference after the events that had been during the day.”

hlad.jennifer@stripes.com Twitter: @jhlad


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