Two area families could only watch news coverage and wait as a gunman went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, where their loved ones have been stationed since 2011.
E4 Spc. Zach Sylvia, from North Vernon; his wife Ashley, from Columbus; and their daughter Bristol, 21 months, were on base when the shooter lockdown started just before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Ashley Sylvia was in military housing at home with her daughter. Zach Sylvia was at the Fort Hood motor pool, where he is an engineer.
Fort Hood is the largest active-duty, armored post in the United States with more than 45,000 soldiers based there, according to its website.
The Sylvias came through unscathed, but family members back home in Indiana lived the moments of uncertainty with them through text messages and social media Wednesday night.
The uncertainty lasted until about 9 p.m., when the military reported that the gunman — Ivan A. Lopez, 34 — had been confronted by military police and killed himself. In addition to the shooter, three people were killed, and 16 were wounded, The Associated Press reported.
In Columbus, Judy Sims, Ashley’s mother, had returned from a visit to Fort Hood a few weeks ago. She had talked to her daughter earlier Wednesday, making plans to Skype later.
“She (Ashley) called me, and she was whispering, ‘Something is extremely wrong,’” Sims said. Sylvia told her mother she had locked the doors and turned off anything that could make noise, and she was trying to keep Bristol quiet. “I’m scared,” she told her mother.
In the background, a siren was wailing, followed by instructions for all base personnel to find shelter and lock themselves in.
Ray Sims, Ashley’s father, called her and made sure the two were as safe as possible under the circumstances. Then text messaging commenced as the search for the gunman continued.
Meanwhile, Zach Sylvia was also on lockdown, texting from the motor pool. He checked in with his wife and her parents, and with his parents, Harlan and Shawn Sylvia, in North Vernon.
“Mom, I’m OK,” was the text from Zach to his mother Shawn.
“I knew he had to watch what he said,” Shawn said. “I didn’t pry. I just wanted to know he was OK. Then I could breathe a sigh of relief.”
When she learned the lockdown was over, “I knew my sweet baby boy was home,” his mother said.
After the all-clear was sounded, about four hours after it began, Zach Sylvia was back with his family on base.
“I was very thankful to have him home,” Ashley Sylvia said, saying she let Bristol hug her dad first when he walked in the door. Ashley Sylvia said she was also grateful to have the lifeline of text messaging to keep her calm while waiting for an unknown outcome.
In the meantime, Judy Sims was nervously waiting until she got a text that he was home.
“All I kept thinking through the whole thing was ‘How can I get there?’” Judy Sims said.
The Sylvia couple, married for five years, were not stationed at Fort Hood in 2009 when the previous shooting incident there shocked the nation. Thirteen people died, and more than 30 were wounded in that incident.
Despite what happened Wednesday, Ashley said her faith is not shaken.
“I think the thing that kept us most calm was that God has everything in control,” she said.