The Rev. Jeff Miller lights four candles, one for each of the victims of the Fort Hood shooting and one for the alleged shooter, at the start of worship at First United Methodist Church in Killeen, Texas.
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KILLEEN, Texas — The church program pictured an empty road being enveloped by dark clouds of a sweeping thunderstorm, and the service’s lesson was from Isaiah 35:4, “Be strong, fear not.”
The preacher told those gathered Sunday that they would find hope in God, but he also acknowledged the question on everyone’s mind: Why Fort Hood — again?
What would have been a routine Sunday service at Tabernacle Baptist Church just outside the sprawling Texas military base became a tribute to the soldiers killed four days earlier when a fellow service member opened fire.
It offered some catharsis for those struggling to comprehend Fort Hood’s second fatal shooting rampage in less than five years.
Similar somber religious gatherings were held throughout the military town of Killeen, but questions outnumbered answers.
“A lot of us, I think this morning, are asking the question, ‘Why? Why would this happen? Why Fort Hood again? Why are these types of things allowed to happen?’” the Rev. Robert Sperbeck told dozens gathered at Tabernacle, where 90 percent of the congregation is current or retired military personnel.
“The devil is the author of what happened on Wednesday, but we do know the answer, we know there is hope.”
Investigators say Spc. Ivan Lopez, an Army truck driver from Puerto Rico, had argued with soldiers in his unit moments before killing three people and wounding 16 others, then fatally shooting himself.
Base officials have said Lopez, who saw no combat during a deployment to Iraq, was being treated for depression and anxiety while being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The shooting revived memories of the November, 2009, attack by Nidal Hassan, an Army psychiatrist who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 people at the base.
The White House said Sunday that President Obama plans to attend an official memorial service Wednesday at Fort Hood.
In the town, grieving has begun. Residents have held a march and a vigil, while Killeen’s Central Christian Church erected a memorial with a trio of crosses honoring those killed and 16 flags for those wounded.
Pastor Sperbeck led the singing of “Amazing Grace,” passed a collection plate for the victims, and read the names of the slain.
He said Sgt. Daniel Ferguson, a 39-year-old from Florida, “died a hero,” noting that he was killed while holding a door shut to keep the shooter from entering a room and targeting more.
The pastor said that 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney-Rodriguez from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, was a 20-year army veteran who was just seven months from retirement. And Sgt. Timothy Owens, 37, from Effingham, Ill., “had planned to make a career serving in the military.”
After the 2009 shooting, Fort Hood tightened security.
Kathy Abad, 31, whose military police officer husband was at Fort Hood at the time of the shooting but didn’t see the attack, said even more measures have been imposed in the days since the rampage.
She said her husband tells her that post officials have begun stopping nearly every car heading into the base to search for weapons, even though commanders insist that can’t continue forever.
Fort Hood covers 340 square miles. More than 40,000 soldiers live on post, and 80,000-plus military and civilian employees and contractors work there every day.