When it comes to locating to a safe area, American citizens are running out of places.

In just the past few years, we've seen gunmen take lives in the most unimaginable places, including an Amish school (Lancaster County in 2006), a major college campus (Virginia Tech in 2007); and even our churches (there were four church shooting attacks in one 15-month span).

Gunmen who are loners with deep psychological problems would appear to be the easiest to fall through the cracks in society. There would be fewer human connections and thus, fewer opportunities to detect any unusual behavior.

What occurred Thursday afternoon at the Soldiers Readiness Center in Fort Hood, Texas, produced shock and confusion on all fronts. First this was a secure military facility, where soldiers are trained to expect the unexpected and respond to crisis and chaos. This training apparently did pay off when soldiers at the facility immediately administered emergency aid to the wounded, thus averting a higher loss of life in the crisis.

But none of the thousands of military families living at the sprawling facility could imagine such a tragedy – within the walls of their base. This was a place where soldiers are trained to be the protectors, not where an unstable soldier – an officer nonetheless – can hatch and launch an attack.

It will take time to sort out all the facts concerning the gunman, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who decided to vent his inner rage by opening fire on his comrades, leaving 12 dead and 31 wounded.

Early reports show that there were red flags concerning Hasan's less-than-stellar military career. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he worked before his Fort Hood assignment, he received a poor performance evaluation. And within the last six months, he became a person of interest to law enforcement with his possible involvement in disturbing Internet postings about such things as threats and suicide bombings. One military official reported that Hasan was visibly disturbed when told he was deploying to Iraq. Another military source said his family has Palestinian roots.

It was hard enough trying to make any sense out of those past mass shootings – at a church, a college campus, an Amish school. Now, the questions as to why a military officer would choose to pull the trigger on fellow comrades are as numerous as they are unimaginable.

These questions are more deep and disturbing since the shootings occurred on a military base – thought to be one of the most secure areas a person or family could be in.

And adding to this tragic puzzle, the gunman was a fellow soldier.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com