Did Ambien Play A Role In Fort Hood Shooting?
UPDATED: Ivan Lopez was being treated with Ambien and anti-depressants for mental health problems unrelated to combat.
On Wednesday, Spc. Ivan Lopez, 34, killed three people and injured 16 others in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, TX before killing himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The shooting marked the second such incident at Fort Hood. On Nov. 5, 2009, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 30 others, and is currently awaiting capital punishment on death row.
According to officials, Lopez sought help for depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, and was prescribed various drugs including Ambien and anti-depressants. While it remains to be seen what other specific drugs he was on, a misprescribed cocktail could have exacerbated side effects if the drugs were not properly calibrated.
Numerous disturbing actions under the influence of Ambien have been reported, sufficiently so that defense attorneys have successfully argued the so-called Ambien Defense because their clients' behaviors were so abnormal for the individuals charged. The Ambien factor has even lapsed over into cases in which there seemed to be a motive.
In March 2009, a 45-year-old man named Robert Stewart shot and killed eight people in a North Carolina nursing home. Despite evidence of premeditation and allegedly having a target in his estranged wife, Stewart's lawyers argued that their client was under the influence of Ambien and managed to have the charges reduced from first-degree murder to second-degree murder, thus avoiding the death penalty.
If he had lived instead of turning his weapon on himself, Lopez may well have tried a similar defense. He was given Ambien and other drugs to treat his mental condition while being evaluated for PTSD, the diagnosis for which had not yet been determined. The lack of such a diagnosis was due in part to Lopez not seeing any combat action in Iraq three years ago.
"His records show no wounds, no involvement — direct involvement — in combat," Army Secretary John McHugh said. "As Gen. Milley said, no record of Purple Heart or any injury that might lead us to further investigate a battle-related [traumatic brain injury] or such."
"The plan forward was to just continue to monitor and treat him as deemed appropriate," McHugh said.
Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley stated that evidence existed that Lopez was psychologically unstable and that it was thought to be a “fundamental underlying cause” of the incident, but gave no indication of anything specific that may have triggered Lopez. Fox News Latino may have found some indication after digging up a Facebook post where Lopez wrote, "I have just lost my inner peace, full of hatred, I think this time the devil will take me.” The post reportedly referred to an incident where Lopez was robbed by two men the night before.
Wednesday’s attack began following what has been called a “verbal altercation” with a soldier or group of soldiers. Lopez walked into a building and began firing a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. He drove off in a vehicle while continuing to fire before going into a second building, where he was confronted by a military police officer and pulled out his weapon. The officer drew her own weapon, as Lopez put the gun to his head and killed himself.
Regardless of their cause, Lopez's actions have shattered the lives of the victims' families and those of his own. "This situation has caused great pain," said Ivan Lopez, Sr. "My son must not have been in his right mind. He wasn't like that."