November 23, 2009 12:00 PM

Standing outside the processing center at Fort Hood, Spc. Francisco De La Serna heard a distinctive “pop, pop.” Having done a 12-month tour in Iraq, he knew in a split second it was the sound of gunfire. And within moments that afternoon of Nov. 5 he saw the source–an officer coming out of the processing center, where soldiers bound for Iraq and Afghanistan attend to final details of their deployment, with a gun in his hand, shooting anyone he could target with a chilling nonchalance. “He wasn’t running, he was walking,” says De La Serna, 23, a medic from St. Marys, Kans. “He was very calm.”

The next thing De La Serna remembers was standing over Sgt. Kim Munley, 34, a civilian police officer on the post, as blood gushed out of her. Munley, who was soon hailed (see box, page 62) for risking her life by charging the assailant, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, and helping bring him down with a hail of gunfire, had been wounded in the artery of her right thigh, which De La Serna bound up with a tourniquet that may have saved her life. But many others were not so lucky. In his seven-minute rampage, Hasan killed 13 people, all but one of them Army personnel, and wounded 38 others, leaving those at the sprawling military post–as well as the rest of the nation–stunned. “I don’t know what caused him to flip out,” says Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, Jr., 42, who knew Hasan and was wounded in the stomach and head. “I really don’t.”

In the days after the massacre that became only slightly clearer. Army officials stressed that it was too soon to tell what role, if any, Hasan’s Muslim faith played in the attack, and media coverage tended to treat the subject carefully. There was no evidence that Hasan, an Army doctor trained as a psychiatrist, had been in league with organized Islamic extremists–although the FBI was investigating communications this year between Hasan and a radical cleric in Yemen. But those who had worked with him in the past say that at the very least he appeared deeply strange and made no secret of his radical views (box, below). “Nidal Hasan was a ticking time bomb,” says one classmate who took classes in public health with him. “He talked about suicide bombers the way you would expect a suicide bomber to talk–as if it were something glorious.”

Like so many others at Fort Hood, Hasan was about to be sent overseas, in his case to Afghanistan. Spc. Grant Moxon, 23, from Lodi, Wisc., who was scheduled to ship out to Afghanistan in December, was sitting at a desk in the readiness center when the shooting started. “He thought it was a drill,” says his father, Dave. Moxon took a bullet in the leg and is expected to recover. “Three of his friends are dead,” says his father, “and he never got to see them.” For some victims, being shot by a fellow soldier added unbearable pain to their wounds. As medic De La Serna rushed one gravely wounded trooper to the hospital, he recalls him angrily screaming, “Man, I was supposed to deploy in two weeks! I’m not supposed to get shot before I deploy!”

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