RED SPRINGS — When Army Specialist Ivan Lopez opened fire at Fort Hood earlier this month, killing three soldiers and injuring 16 others, it was news around the world.
For Flora Macdonald Academy volunteer Alonzo Lunsford, the April 2 shooting was more than a headline — it was tragic reminder of what he endured during the first massacre at the same Army base more than four years ago.
“I couldn’t believe it happened again,” said the 47-year-old retired staff sergeant, who was shot seven times during the 2009 Ft. Hood attack that killed 13 people and injured 32 people. The incident left him blind in one eye.
Last year, a military jury determined that former Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was guilty of the shootings and sentenced him to die.
Lunsford watched Wednesday’s televised memorial for the most-recent victims in silence. He missed seeing the 2009 memorial, where President Barack Obama also spoke, because he was in the hospital struggling for his life.
“I want to give encouragement to them,” Lunsford said of the survivors and the families of the deceased. “Don’t give up. You might feel like it, but don’t. You’re not out there by yourself. We are just a phone call away.”
In 2009, Lunsford was an Army medic at Ft. Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where military personnel receive routine medical treatment before and after deployment. Hasan was stationed there too.
Lunsford, who worked with Hasan, said the doctor was often onerous. The month before the shooting, Lunsford said Hasan had made “a big issue” of giving some shots to soldiers.
“He was giving my workers a hard time and I went over and squared it away,” Lunsford said. “He could be difficult, but for the most part he was a regular guy … a regular officer.”
At 1:34 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2009, Lunsford’s perception of Hasan would be forever altered. At that time, Hasan entered the processing center armed with a pistol fitted with two Lasermax lasers — one red, and one green.
According to eyewitnesses, Hasan took a seat at an empty table and bowed his head for several seconds when he suddenly stood up, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and opened fire.
When Hasan began firing, Lunsford said he ran for an exit. He had been standing just eight feet from the gunman.
“The only thing I had to fight with was a laptop computer in my hand,” he said. “You don’t take a laptop to a gunfight. I wanted to escape and get some people to go back and get him, but I wasn’t able to do that … I tried.”
Lunsford said before he knew it, Hasan’s laser sight was pointed directly at him. Lunsford was then shot in the head.
Lunsford tried to play dead, but quickly reconsidered because, “dead men don’t sweat.” He made another attempt to reach the door, but was shot six more times before being pulled to safety.
“The thought that ran through my mind is this really can’t be happening,” he said.
Now Lunsford is blind in his left eye and half of his intestines have been surgically removed. He has difficulty walking and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Facial reconstruction is among the six surgeries that the married father of five has undergone. One bullet is still lodged in his back. The 22-year Army veteran retired because of his injuries.
Lunsford, who lives in Lillington, said he thinks both shootings could have been prevented. He said that each shooter set off numerous “red flags” that should have been heeded by military brass.
He said it appears that Lopez was unable to get help for the stress he was under. “They need to understand that when someone comes to them for help, you need to take it seriously.”
Lunsford said that Hasan should have been in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay at the time of the 2009 shooting.
“He had business cards with the words Soldier of Allah as a field-grade military officer,” Lunsford said. “But they let him slide because of political correctness and that he played the race card. When you let stuff like that slide, people die.”
Lunsford and 130 other people — victims and their relatives — are suing the U.S. government because they contend that the military and FBI were aware that Hasan was a radical Muslim who supported jihad against the United States, but failed to take action. The lawsuit also seeks to have the Fort Hood attack designated as a terrorist attack instead of “workplace violence.”
Lunsford, a member of the Wounded Warriors, said he hopes the most recent victims fare better than the ones from 2009.
“I watched President Obama refer to being there before at the memorial,” Lunsford said. “It all sounded good, but he didn’t do what he said he was going to do for us. I don’t want the latest victims to be promised things they won’t get.”
Lunsford, who now coaches at Fayetteville Christian Academy, said he also volunteers his time with the Red Springs girls basketball team at Flora Macdonald, where everyone calls him Big Al. His wife, Gheri, also volunteers at the private school. A friend suggested they volunteer at the school.
“I try to show them a few little things to help them improve their game,” he said. “I love basketball.”
Growing up in Rockingham, Lunsford played basketball for Richmond County High School. He also played on college teams at Johnson C. Smith University and Southern University New Orleans.
Lunsford serves as head assistant coach for the Fayetteville Flight, an expansion franchise of the American Basketball Association that began play in the 2010-11 season.
In addition to talking about basketball, Lunsford said he tries to use what happened to him to show students that everyone has the fortitude “to survive and thrive” if they will tap into it.
“I’ve shared my story with the students at Flora Macdonald,” he said. “I tried to use it as a motivator. I think it helps them. I know it helps me.”