A sergeant shot five times during last year's rampage at Fort Hood said Wednesday he recalled lying on the floor and locking eyes with Maj. Nidal Hasan after the Army psychiatrist cried out "Allahu Akbar" and unleashed a burst of gunfire into a crowd of soldiers preparing for deployment.
Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford said the light from a laser-guided weapon soon trained on him, and he closed his eyes.
Lunsford, who lost most of the sight in his left eye in the attack, was the first in a long line of victims who will come face-to-face with Hasan at a military hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.
Hasan, 40, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 Fort Hood attack — the worst mass shooting at an American military base.
Lunsford testified that Hasan pulled weapons from his Army combat uniform and shouted "God is Great," in Arabic.
"I was wondering why he would say 'Allahu Akbar.'" Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford said. He illustrated the pace of the subsequent round of gunfire by rapping his fist on the witness stand.
Prosecutor Lt. Col. Steve Henricks asked Lunsford if he got a look at the shooter.
Lunsford said he had a "very good look," then stood and pointed at Hasan, who was seated in a wheelchair just a few feet away. Hasan has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers fired on him during the attack.
"Maj. Hasan and I made eye contact," said Lunsford. "The laser (on the weapon's barrel) comes across my line of sight. I closed my eyes. He discharged his weapon."
Later Wednesday, the court heard a recording of a 911 call made my a civilian worker from the epicenter of the tragedy — the Soldier Readiness Processing Center.
Medical technician Michelle Harper said she hid under a desk when the gunfire began.
"Hurry, please," a frantic Harper told the 911 operator as the gun shots and groans for help from shooting victims resounded around her.
"Are you safe?" the unidentified 911 operator asked.
"No," Harper replied.
Harper cried as the 911 tape was played, and Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge presiding over the hearing as its investigating officer, called a brief recess to give her a chance to recover.
Hasan, who has been paralyzed from the chest down since Fort Hood police officers fired at him during the rampage, was expressionless throughout the morning session. He wore his Army combat uniform and pulled a blanket around him while sitting in his wheelchair.
The Article 32 hearing, a proceeding unique to military law, will determine if there's enough evidence to move forward to a trial. It is expected to last at least three weeks.
Lunsford, a 6 foot 9 1/2 serviceman who is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., testified that he crouched behind a check-in counter at the processing center and watched as a civilian physician assistant, Michael Grant Cahill, tried to knock Hasan down with a chair. Cahill was one of the 13 killed that day.
Later Wednesday Pvt. Amber Bahr described the chaos that took over the center as the shooting began.
"People were trying to hide behind barriers and lifting up and throwing chairs, and people trying to shield themselves from the gunshots," Bahr, who was shot in the back, told the court.
Witnesses have said Hasan used two personal pistols, one a semiautomatic, to take some 100 shots at about 300 people at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where soldiers were making final preparations to deploy.
He's been in custody since, hospitalized first in San Antonio, then moved to jail in Bell County, which houses military suspects for nearby Fort Hood. The military justice system does not offer bail.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge presiding over the hearing as its investigating officer, earlier denied a request by Hasan's lawyers to postpone the hearing until Nov. 8, after the anniversary of the attacks.
Security has been tight at the Fort Hood courthouse, where soldiers at newly installed barriers restricted traffic. Patrol cars cruised the area. Bomb-sniffing dogs scrutinized vehicles. A small group of reporters allowed into the courtroom went through metal detectors, while photographers outside were blocked from any view of Hasan arriving.
At an auxiliary courtroom where other media monitored proceedings on a closed-circuit TV feed, cell phones were collected and access to the Internet was barred.