2020 has been a year marked by bloodshed and heartache for military service members stationed at Fort Hood Army Base in the central Texas city of Killeen. A slew of homicides, suicides, fatal accidents, and criminal activities has left family members, friends, and residents of the base feeling shocked and baffled.
Fort Hood is home to about 65,000 soldiers, making it one of the largest military installations in the country. Since 2016, incidents on and around the base have made it deadlier than the battlefront, with 159 noncombat deaths in five years, including seven homicides and 71 suicides. 2020, in particular, has brought an unprecedented number of violent crimes. Military leaders and mental health experts are struggling to understand why.
The Incidents at Fort Hood in 2020
On March 1, a 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier was shot and killed.
Two weeks later, a 23-year-old soldier was murdered in a triple homicide. The soldier’s pregnant girlfriend and a former soldier were also killed.
In May, a soldier was arrested for breaking into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, where she shot him and attacked him with a hammer.
A few days later, a soldier was shot and killed, and his nearby vehicle was found engulfed in flames.
In June, the remains of a soldier who had gone missing in August 2019 was discovered in a field.
That same month, the search for another soldier who had been missing since April ended when her dismembered body was discovered near a river. Authorities say the murder suspect, a fellow soldier, took his own life when confronted about the killing.
Later in the summer, two soldiers died two weeks apart in what appeared to be drowning accidents in the same lake.
In early September, a 25-year-old soldier collapsed following a physical fitness training exercise five days earlier.
These are only a handful of the total incidents that have occurred at Fort Hood this year. During the first nine months of 2020, the base saw five homicides, seven suicides, nine accidents, two illnesses, and five deaths that are still under investigation.
Why Fort Hood?
The violence at Fort Hood far outpaces that seen at other military bases. For instance, Fort Bragg in North Carolina has over 50,000 troops, making it larger than Fort Hood. Yet, it has had only one homicide this year.
Statements from Fort Hood military families have included:
- “I don’t feel safe on base.”
- “I’m afraid I will find my husband hanging in the shower.”
- “I am deeply concerned about the soldiers here, and I’m deeply concerned for their families.”
The one question on everyone’s minds is why Fort Hood? What has gone wrong? As Latrece Johnson, mother of a triple homicide victim, put it, “They’re supposed to protect and serve, but how can they protect and serve when their own are getting killed and brutally murdered?”
Critics of Fort Hood suggest that commanders have been slow to respond to signs of emotional and psychological problems stemming from sexual harassment and bullying that have plagued the base for years. Military mental health experts say the culture of overlooking noncombat conflicts has to stop.
Even as Army leaders begin responding to the deaths and other incidents more aggressively, a Fort Hood spokesperson argues that installation officials have always taken the troops’ mental health seriously. There have supposedly been no specific signs of issues that differ from soldiers at other army bases.
Some mental health professionals say they are reminded of a cluster of violent incidents at Fort Carson in Colorado between 2005 and 2008. During that time, 14 soldiers were involved in a series of unrelated homicides and attempted murders. Following a thorough study, researchers were unable to identify a single factor to explain the anomaly.
Congress has launched an investigation into Fort Hood’s “alarming pattern of recent tragedies,” taking a closer look at the base’s leaders and several of the soldiers’ deaths. The goal is to seek justice on behalf of those in uniform and their families by uncovering whether the incidents could be “symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.”
Public outcry over one soldier’s death, in particular, has led to the demand for improved handling of sexual assault and harassment in the military. Before her disappearance, Vanessa Guillen—the soldier whose dismembered body was discovered in June—told friends and fellow soldiers that she had been sexually harassed but had not made any formal complaints. According to her sister, Vanessa “was too afraid to report the harassment because no one would listen to her.”
Following her murder, the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen went viral on social media. Hundreds of service members shared their accounts of being subjected to sexual misconduct in the military. In September, a draft of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act was introduced in Congress. If it becomes law, the legislation will allow for third-party investigations and prosecutions of sexual misconduct claims in the military.
Seek Justice with Help from a Military Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been involved in a military crime, whether violent or not, choose Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law to represent you. Our lead attorney has prior experience in the military and as an Army JAG officer. Whether you are stationed at a US military base or deployed abroad, we have the knowledge and expertise to advocate for you.