FORT HOOD, Texas — An unsettling sense of deja vu has descended upon this sprawling Army post and the town surrounding it after a soldier on Wednesday shot and killed three people and wounded 16 before fatally shooting himself when confronted by a military police officer.
For a community still recovering from the November 2009 killing of 13 base workers, Wednesday's assault by Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, renewed old fears and awakened new ones.
"You figure that since it happened before, they'd be more prepared," said all-night diner waitress Catherine Wright as she finished a shift that was far slower than usual for Thursday morning. The post was locked down late into Wednesday night as authorities scrambled to respond.
Fort Hood is a massive Army installation, home to a community of active-duty soldiers, civilians, family members and retirees numbering more than 100,000, said commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley.
The day after the shooting, Milley said soldiers on the post are alert and have high morale and a focused attention to duty, which he credited to the presence of a large number of combat veterans.
"The morale of the soldiers is serious. It is professional," he said outside the post's main gate. "They are strong and resilient."
The base was closed to reporters.
Off the base, some people in the community said they were unnerved by what they saw as a tragedy caused by the aftermath of combat and deployment stress on soldiers and their families.
"It's very disturbing that people could do something like this," sports bar waitress Anette Barreiro said between drags on a cigarette. "I know they've just come from war, but to do something like this ... "
Set in the middle of Texas between Dallas and Austin, and originally a tank training facility, Fort Hood is ringed by barbershops, tailors, payday lenders and tattoo parlors. It's a place where young men in their combat fatigues rev the engines of shiny new sports cars and the local economy is closely tied to the federal dollars that flow into soldiers' pockets.
The post itself is home to military facilities and soldiers' housing on streets named Tank Destroyer Boulevard and Hell on Wheels Avenue. Many post workers live in adjacent Killeen, tying together the military and civilian communities.
As they did in 2009, police officers and medical personnel from Killeen raced to aid their uniformed brothers and sisters after the shooting, said Mayor Dan Corbin.
"They are our friends. They are our neighbors," Corbin said. "We're here for them."
A few miles from the post's main gate, car salesman Terry Johnson stepped outside a restaurant for a smoke and worried aloud about his friends and customers. Johnson said high-ranking officers have told him they feel safer deployed in combat zones than they do on their own post.
"This major, I've sold him three cars, he says to me, 'I felt safer in a war zone.'"