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A Survivor Of The 2009 Fort Hood Shootings Says Things Will Get Better

Elizabeth Baier MPR News
Patrick Zeigler, his wife Jessica, and their 1-year-old son. They live in Rochester, Minn.

On Wednesday, Fort Hood remembered the victims of last week’s shootings.

President Obama spoke at the memorial service.

“It was love for country that inspired these three Americans to put on the uniform and join the greatest army that the world has ever known,” the president said.

The last week has also been hard for survivors of the last shooting spree. In 2009, Patrick Zeigler was shot four times by Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

Zeigler talked with KERA about his recovery -- and the surprising friendships that have come from that tragic day.This November will be five years since Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 32 others not far from where Wednesday’s memorial was held. Retired staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler was nicknamed No. 14 because few thought he could survive a bullet to the head, a bullet to his left shoulder, a bullet to his left forearm, and a bullet in his left hip.  

“Sorry I’m talking so slow, I’ve got a big hole in my brain,” he said.

Twenty percent of his brain was removed, and a metal plate, the size of a baseball, is now part of his skull. After too many surgeries, too many outpatient clinics, and navigating life with one arm, well, it’s been rough.

“It’s taken a long time to be so enthusiastic about life,” Zeigler said. “So you know, I’m able to enjoy my freedom, enjoy the things that I fought for, and get on with my life.”

He’s been back and forth to Texas, but is now retired, living with his wife Jessica, in her hometown of Rochester, Minn.

“At first I was completely paralyzed on the left side,” he said. “It was very difficult to do anything. So I had to rehab myself, to learn how to do everything with my right hand side, including getting dressed, and all the personal hygiene, just everyday things, like writing, reading, and everything else. Had to do it all with one hand.”    

Zeigler, 32, says his recovery is ongoing, and possibly life-long, but he bares no grudge.

“Nidal Hasan thought he was doing the right thing by his religious standards,” he said. “And he believed that by killing American soldiers he would save other people. And it was just a very ignorant and misplaced ideology, so it was very simple for me to forgiven him for thinking the wrong things and letting himself be pulled into an evil place where he could hurt people like that.”     

Zeigler and his wife Jessica have even become friends with members of the Hasan family.

“What I learned about them is that they’re phenomenal people who have a beautiful faith,” she said. “And they’re good family members. They love one another, they care about the victims, they’ve done kind things for the victims, us included.”

She says she can’t hold them responsible.

“One of the things that really struck me about the Hasan family was that they said when the news broke,” she said. “They were concerned about the safety of their loved one, and it didn’t even occur to them that he could be at all involved, you know. They thought that he was a victim.”

During the chaos of Nov. 5, she says, the Hasan family did the same thing she was doing: watching TV, waiting and hoping for a phone call from their loved one.

“And they also found out about Hasan’s involvement through the news,” she said. “They saw his name come across the screen, they saw his picture and their world shattered. I know that they’ve been able to move on with their lives a bit more. I don’t want to see the same thing happen that happened to the Hasan family, where we have threats coming out, where we have that family ostracized.”          

Jessica Zeigler says the Fort Hood community today needs to be supportive of shooter Ivan Lopez’s wife and kids.  

“Really, there’s no way that her or any other member of his family could be held responsible for the decision that he made,” she said. “His wife, his father, his family, the children, are just as much victims in this. They deserve the same level of support and empathy and prayers for the community”

The Zeiglers say not a lot of people can understand what victims have gone through -- surviving the trauma of a mass shooting, coping with years of physical and psychological therapy, and even just getting through Army medical paperwork.

To those who feel helpless or hopeless, the former staff sergeant says: “Things will eventually get better. I want them to know that there is light at the end of a very long tunnel. And they’ll be able to survive this.”

He did. After the shootings, doctors told him he’d never have a kid. And today, sitting next to him, in his wife’s lap, is their 1-year-old son.

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