KILLEEN — Jerilyn Krueger said she woke Tuesday with a heaviness in her chest, reliving the feelings she experienced 10 years ago when she first learned her daughter, Amy, had been killed at Fort Hood.
She had sat by the phone for hours that day after hearing news of the shooting at the Army post 70 miles north of Austin. At 2:30 a.m., there was a knock at the door.
Two uniformed officers delivered the news her daughter was gone.
“It’s unbelievable that it’s been 10 years. It just doesn’t seem that long,” Krueger said Tuesday. “Tragedy is like that. It never seems like it’s the time. It’s like it stands still when you have something tragic happen.”
At about 1:40 p.m. Tuesday, about the same time of day that her daughter was killed 10 years ago, Krueger walked to a podium outside the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, clutching her niece Theresa Rief’s hand. Jerilyn didn’t speak. She stood with tears in her eyes, as Rief read aloud a poem written in Amy Krueger’s honor.
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One by one, other family members of the 13 who died in the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre made their way to the podium to share memories of their loved ones.
The crowd of about 200 observed a moment of silence as the names of the dead and 31 wounded were read aloud, followed by the playing of taps and a resounding chorus of “God Bless America.”
The Fort Hood shooting, carried out by an Army major who was a psychiatrist became a professed Islamic extremist, was the deadliest shooting attack on a U.S. military installation in the modern era. It has sparked national conversations on such issues as military mental health and the nature of domestic terrorism.
An estimated 31 family members of the fallen attended Tuesday’s services at the Killeen memorial.
Teena Nemelka wept as she read a poem for her son, Pfc. Aaron Nemelka, who was 19 when he was killed. She described him as lovable and friendly, a devoted soldier who had enlisted in the Army to pay his way through college before he was fatally shot.
“We have a lot of tragedy in the world these days, and a lot of them don’t get honored like this,” Krueger said.
Timothy Hancock, who was Killeen's mayor at the time of the shooting and was on the post during the attack, said the massacre was unprecedented.
“I was just totally surprised that something like that could happen on Fort Hood,” Hancock said. “It was unheard of.”
Several families could not make it to the memorial Tuesday. Dorothy Carskadon, who was shot four times during the massacre, read statements on their behalf.
“I know that people have had to, whether they want to or not, everyone has had to continue on living,” said Carskadon, who had been preparing to deploy to Afghanistan as part of a medical unit that counseled soldiers when she was shot. “It is hard for them to come down here, because they needed to move on.”
Ten years later, Carskadon is continuing to heal. She works as a social worker for the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Amarillo and said she still has aches in her back, legs and hip. She has an anxiety disorder that causes her symptoms to flare up.
Her wife, Julie Carskadon, has carried much of the emotional fallout through the years and still cries when she thinks about the 16 hours she waited to hear whether Dorothy had survived.
“There was nothing worse than the not knowing,” Julie Carskadon said. “Being here is hard, very hard for me. But I realize that my story is not as difficult as some of the others, the families of the fallen, and I feel selfish because I become emotional over my own pain. It’s hard to be here. I would rather be any place but here. But it’s a part of our history.”
Family members of those who died in the shooting crowded the Shilo Inns Suites in Killeen Monday night. Many had flown in from as far away as California and Utah for the memorial.
“I know time has passed, but there are still pieces that are very raw,” said Keely Vanacker, whose father, Michael Cahill, was the one civilian killed in the shooting. “Even after his death, there were the four years it took for a court-martial, then we had a memorial dedication. It never stopped — if that makes sense.”
Cahill was one of a handful of people in the Soldier Readiness Processing Center who tried to charge Nidal Hasan during his 10-minute rampage. As Cahill raised a chair over his head, Hasan shot and killed him. Hasan was sentenced to death in 2013 and sits on the military’s death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Today, Cahill’s family continues to place wreaths at the memorial sites throughout Killeen.
Vanacker said what she wants people to remember most about the shooting is the courage the soldiers displayed, running to the scene to help victims or try to stop Hasan instead of running away.
“They need to know that everybody in that room that day is who we are and who we should be as a country every day,” Vanacker said.
At lunchtime Monday, soldiers shuffled in and out of the C&H Hawaiian Grill 2 miles from the post. Most were unaware of the shooting anniversary the next day. Fort Hood is a place where people from all over the country come and go, and many weren’t around 10 years ago when the massacre happened.
Still, no one at the crowded restaurant had to be reminded of what happened that day. The incident has left lasting imprints on Fort Hood.
Sgt. Brett Lenoble, who returned to Fort Hood four months ago after serving there a decade ago, said he was acutely aware of the prominent signs warning “no backpacks” and “no weapons” outside the new Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
The old center, where the shooting happened, was torn down.
“The nation has an extremely short memory,” Lenoble said. “People are concerned about other things that don’t really matter.”
On Tuesday, Fort Hood officials issued a statement calling on the public to remember those slain in the massacre: “Going forward, we must remain vigilant and connected so that this never happens again.”
The shooting has ushered in a number of security changes to Fort Hood and across the U.S. military.
In 2010, the Defense Department made a series of changes, including improved information sharing on internal threats within the Army and with other agencies, including enhanced screening of personnel at installations’ visitor centers.
In 2014, however, a second mass shooting at Fort Hood exposed gaps in the military’s safety net. A disgruntled soldier, Spc. Ivan Lopez, killed three fellow soldiers and wounded 16 before killing himself in a shooting rampage that sprawled across multiple buildings and blocks of the Army post.
Army investigators determined officials could have done little to predict or prevent that shooting, which was deemed workplace violence and not terrorism, but once again made a number of recommendations to enhance security on the installation.
Since then, Fort Hood officials have strengthened gun rules on post, requiring higher-ranking soldiers to also get a commander's signature when registering a firearm.
Killeen also has changed a lot in the 10 years since the shooting.
Now a city of 150,000 people, it is slowly becoming a bedroom community for people who work in Austin and have no connection to the military. But the heart of the city is still tied in many ways to Fort Hood. The clocks in some restaurants show military time, and many of the people who call the town home are retired soldiers, who chose to live out their last days near the post.
“It’s a patriotic community,” Mayor Jose Segarra said. “We love our soldiers.”
Still, Segarra said he never wants the tragedy at Fort Hood to become synonymous with the city.
“Our hearts are with the family members who lost loved ones in the tragedy,” he said. “We don’t want to forget. But at the same time, I don’t think the event itself, the tragedy, is something any community wants to be remembered for.”
Staff writer Jeremy Schwartz contributed to this report.