The Tampa area, home to an Air Force base with two major combatant commands, has another connection to the military, this one tragic.
Two of the three victims of a short, deadly rampage at Fort Hood on Wednesday had ties to the Bay area.
One victim grew up in Polk County, a popular, well-respected athlete. Another, from Puerto Rico, was planning on retiring from the military and had a father and three brothers living in Tampa, according to media reports.
The Fort Hood killing spree hit home for Mulberry High School Friday morning, as assistant principal Lori Leverett got on the intercom system and asked for a moment of silence to honor Daniel Ferguson, 39, a former student gunned down Wednesday at the sprawling Texas military base. And CNN is reporting that another victim, Army Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney Rodriguez, 38, has a father and three brothers living in Tampa. Rodriguez is originally from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
“Many of you are aware of the senseless tragedy of the Fort Hood shooting in Texas this week,” assistant principal Lori Leverett said she told students this morning. “It was confirmed late last night that one of the victims was Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson. Daniel Ferguson was a 1993 graduate of Mulberry High School. Many of our teachers may have taught him and several of our teachers went to school with him.”
Leverett said that she told students Ferguson “is being called the hero of Fort Hood. It was he who stood to block the gunman from entering a crowded room where he would have killed many more people.”
Leverett said she was using information gleaned from an interview WTSP-TV did Thursday with Kristen Haley, a soldier, who told the station she was Ferguson’s fianceé and that Ferguson had recently returned from Afghanistan.
“He held that door shut because it wouldn’t lock,” Haley told the television station. “It seems the doors would be bullet proof, but apparently they’re not,” Haley explained. “If he wasn’t the one standing there holding those doors closed, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else.”
At a Friday afternoon press conference at Fort Hood, Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the base commander, named all three victims. A third soldier, Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37 of Effington, Ill., was also killed. Milley declined to answer any questions about specific acts of heroism during the short period of time Army Spc. Ivan Lopez began firing at his fellow soldiers. The killing spree took place in buildings and as Lopez was driving across the base, following some kind of verbal altercation, said Christopher Grey, a spokesman for the base criminal investigation division.
When confronted by an MP, Lopez put his gun to his head and killed himself, Grey said.
Ferguson’s family still lives in the Mulberry area, but “has no comment and would ask that everyone please respect their privacy during this difficult time,” according to Mark Howell, who is acting as a family spokesman. There was nobody home at a Tampa house records show is owned by Rodriguez’s relatives. A neighbor said they have asked for their privacy as well.
Efforts to reach Haley were unsuccessful.
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Rodriguez was from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and planned to retire from the military soon after serving 20 years, Aguadilla Mayor Carlos Mendez told CNN en Español.
“It was a very close-knit family,” Mendez said “Excellent, decent, very good people. I know his family and his parents. They are good people.”
Rodriguez graduated from high school in Aguadilla and enlisted at 18, Cuevas reported. He had a wife and family.
Aguadilla, a town of about 60,000 people, is on the northwest corner of Puerto Rico.
His immediate family, including his father and three brothers, lives in Tampa, Cuevas reported, and his aunt still lives in Aguadilla.
“His aunt was destroyed; she almost couldn’t speak,” Mendez said. “They weren’t expecting this. It is a pity that seven months before that he was meant to leave the Army something like this happens.”
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Ferguson joined the Army in July 1993 and served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, according to the Army. He earned a Bronze Star Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals and five Army Commendation Medals among many other honors. He returned from Afghanistan a year ago.
Lazaney entered active-duty service in February 1995. He was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq and earned four Army Commendation Medals, three Army Achievement Medals, an Army Superior Unit Award and a Combat Action Badge, among many other honors.
Owens entered active-duty service in June 2004, was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait and earned three Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals and a Combat Action Badge, among many honors.
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Ferguson was “a very quiet, very respectful student,” Leverett recalled, adding that she knew him from her days as the school art teacher and senior class sponsor. “He was a bright young man, very athletic, involved in many sports and student activities.”
Leverett said Ferguson was a member of the Letterman’s Club, the Future Business Leaders of America and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“He was just a well-rounded individual,” she said. “A wholesome, nice person.”
Some of his old friends, who are also teachers at the high school, have similar memories.
“Danny was just a nice guy,” said Leslie Wright, who coaches girl’s golf and softball. “Everyone had a lot of respect for him, he was a guy of great character.”
Kimberly Bowling, whose husband played football with Ferguson, remembered him as “one of the good guys of Mulberry.
“He was wholesome and easy going,” said Bowling, an English teacher. “I remember him always wearing his football jacket.”
Ferguson, she said, was a tight end.
When she heard the news, Bowling said she felt a mixture of sadness and pride.
“I was proud to know that he was from Mulberry and that he sacrificed his life and died a hero,” she said.
After telling students about Ferguson, assistant principal Leverett said she then asked students to remain standing “for a moment of silence for Danny and the other victims.”
She said she asked teachers later how the students — who were born after Ferguson graduated — reacted.
“They were quiet and respectful,” said Leverett,.