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After Several Deaths At Fort Hood, Lawmakers Call For Congressional Investigation

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Earlier this year, the killing of U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillen drew nationwide attention to Fort Hood, the large military base in Killeen, Texas. It resulted in the Army creating an independent review board to look into the culture of the base. But since, there have been even more deaths - the remains of a soldier found in July and yet another just last week. Rose Thayer, a reporter for Stars and Stripes, has been covering the deaths and disappearances at Fort Hood and joins us now from Texas.

Welcome to the program.

ROSE THAYER: Hi. Thank you for having me.

ELLIOTT: So the situation there has some Texas lawmakers calling for a congressional investigation. How many soldiers have died or disappeared on or near the base this year?

THAYER: Yeah. So this year at Fort Hood, there have been about 28 soldiers total who have died at the installation, which isn't abnormal for other years. However, the manner in which they've died is what's drawing attention. Five of those soldiers died by homicide, most notably Vanessa Guillen, as you mentioned, who was murdered by a fellow soldier. And then four of those other soldiers died by homicide off the base. And that number - five - is double the number of soldiers to die by homicide in the previous four years.

ELLIOTT: Are there any clues? Is there a common thread that is emerging?

THAYER: I have noticed in my reporting a few of them involve shooting. So guns are involved in two of the murders. With PFC Brandon Rosecrans, he actually was selling a firearm to someone else, who then allegedly killed him over a disagreement about the price. And then a man was arrested for killing a soldier, Specialist Freddy Delacruz. And it seems that the murder weapon was purchased from a soldier that was not named on Fort Hood.

ELLIOTT: How has the Department of Defense responded? And what about the leadership there at Fort Hood?

THAYER: So there's now at least four open inspections or reviews. Some of those are looking at Fort Hood as a larger entity. I think the most notable is the independent review panel that consists of four veterans and one former FBI investigator. And they are tasked with looking at the command climate and culture at Fort Hood to determine if it meets the Army values. And that review is also looking at the Killeen community as well.

ELLIOTT: How does the violence at Fort Hood compare to, say, other large military bases around the country?

THAYER: Secretary of the Army McCarthy mentioned that Fort Hood's numbers of crimes committed by soldiers were higher than any other, you know, entity of the Army formation. And so we asked him to provide those numbers to Stars and Stripes - you know, what made him say that. And he provided comparing Fort Hood's numbers of violent crime to those of Fort Bragg, which is - has a larger soldier population, and then fort - Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which has a slightly smaller population. And Fort Hood had the highest numbers when it came to violent crimes, violent felonies and then also nonviolent felonies.

ELLIOTT: So I have seen where some say this is simply not a military issue, but it is more of a symptom of a broader violent crime problem there in Killeen.

THAYER: Yeah, the city of Killeen is also having a very difficult year as far as violent crimes. They've had the same number of murders this year so far than they had in all of 2019. And I was able to get some questions answered by the police chief in Killeen, and he said the majority of the violent crime that takes place in his city is because people are participating in at-risk behavior, such as drugs or prostitution. So it sounded like, you know, they're really trying to get a handle on those issues so that they can, you know, get a handle on the violent crimes that are taking place as well.

ELLIOTT: What are you hearing from the soldiers and their families there on base?

THAYER: You know, I've talked to a number of families, particularly those who - their soldier was a victim of these homicides. And they're just, I mean, obviously devastated. I spoke to Latrece Johnson, whose son Freddy Delacruz died at Fort Hood. And she's - she said she's feeling a wave of emotions. She's still angry. Freddy's twin brother is also in the Army. And so she said even though he's, you know, in Kentucky, she's still very concerned about his well-being at an installation.

ELLIOTT: Rose Thayer is a reporter for military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

Thanks again.

THAYER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.