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Published: Friday April 4, 2014 MYT 11:15:02 AM
Updated: Friday April 4, 2014 MYT 11:16:15 AM

After rampage, portrait of Fort Hood shooter starts to emerge

(Reuters) - When Ivan Lopez's mother died last year, the U.S. soldier suspected of killing three people at the Fort Hood base in Texas told friends the Army gave him just one day to attend her funeral in Puerto Rico.

That brief allotted window appeared to compound his grief over a personal double-loss: The death in October of his mother, Carmen, a nurse, came soon after that of his grandfather, according to Edgardo Arlequin, the mayor of Lopez's hometown of Guayanilla.

"That was one of the reasons why he was very upset," Arlequin said. "They only gave him 24 hours. He was very, very close to his mother. His mother was a nice person and everybody in the town knew her."

No motive has been given for the shooting rampage, which officials said may have begun as a verbal altercation with another soldier or soldiers and ended with Lopez's suicide.

But a day after a incident that also left 16 people wounded, a portrait began to emerge of the suspect as a 34-year-old soldier struggling with mental health issues as well as deep personal loss.

Josue Blasini, a 36-year-old tattoo artist in Guayanilla introduced as a childhood bandmate of Lopez, said his friend had been deeply affected by his mother's passing and was upset by having to leave so quickly after her death.

"He said he wanted to spend more time with his family and friends to try to come to grips with what had happened," Blasini said.

The account by the mayor and Lopez' friend could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters. A U.S. Army spokeswoman in Washington referred questions about the issue to the chief of media relations at Fort Hood, who was not immediately available.

While growing up in Guayanilla, Lopez attended Aristides Cales Quiros Middle School and Asuncion Rodriguez De Sala High School, where he played drums in the school band, Arlequin said.

He enlisted in the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1999, where he served in an infantry unit and as a military band percussionist, with a brief stint in Egypt's Sinai peninsula as part of an observation mission, Puerto Rico National Guard Major Jamie Davis told Reuters.

SELF-REPORTED BRAIN INJURY

Lopez went on to join the U.S. Army in 2008, and served several months as a truck driver in Iraq in 2011, according to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh. He had no direct involvement in combat and was not wounded there.

Lopez arrived at Fort Hood in February. He lived with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in a modest blue-and-gray apartment building in Killeen, where American flags flew and "Welcome home" signs adorned the walls of a place favoured by soldiers rotating through the base.

Fort Hood commanding officer Lieutenant General Mark Milley said Lopez had "self-reported" a traumatic brain injury after returning from Iraq, although he had not been wounded in action. Before the shooting incident, he was being evaluated for PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder.

"We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates unstable psychiatric or psychological conditions," Milley told reporters.

The U.S. Army Secretary told a U.S. Senate Committee hearing that Lopez had been undergoing a variety of treatments after being diagnosed with mental health conditions, ranging from depression to anxiety to some sleep disturbance.

But even as evidence of Lopez' struggles came to light, neighbours who knew him reported seeing nothing to indicate impending violence.

One former neighbour who lived across the street in El Paso, Texas, where Lopez had served as an infantryman at Fort Bliss, said the family lived a quiet life.

"I never heard them fight, or anything bad like that," said neighbour Noah Georges, 33, himself a military veteran. "I never saw any signs that he was suffering."

In Killeen, neighbour Mahogoney Jones, 21, said she last saw Lopez when he came home for lunch on the day of the mass shooting, the second such incident in five years at one of the largest military bases in the United States.

"He was calm. He petted my dog and then went back to base," she said.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Killeen,; John Marino and Ana Martinez in Puerto Rico, David Crowder in El Paso and David Adams in Miami; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Eric Walsh)

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