A tragedy as stunning as Thursday's mass killings at Fort Hood evokes extreme emotions.

Perspective is difficult — but absolutely necessary to understanding what happened and its implications.

The rush of information after 13 people were shot to death at the U.S. Army base was at once extensive, incomplete and occasionally wrong.

Military officials believe Maj. Nidal Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, fired a handgun in a center where about 300 soldiers were waiting to get vaccinations and eye tests as they prepared to deploy overseas.

A female police officer is credited with wounding Hasan, who was taken to an area hospital under custody.

Many details about his background emerged quickly: He was born in Arlington, Va., to Palestinians who moved to the U.S. from Israel. He grew up in Virginia's Roanoke Valley and graduated from Virginia Tech University. He received a medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and worked six years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A lifelong Muslim, he attended a mosque in Silver Spring, Md. He moved to Fort Hood in July.

But much is not publicly known yet, including his motive, partly because officials had not interviewed him. He was in a coma on Friday and on a ventilator, according to news reports. Investigators will have to determine whether his behavior had provided warning signs that he might engage in such mindless violence. And the public will want to know what would cause a military officer to fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.

A key point to remember is that even though authorities believe Hasan was the gunman, even if he is formally charged in the killings, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until the government proves he's guilty.

Some news outlets seem obsessed with Hasan?s religion. Some online commentators have seized the opportunity to spew hateful denunciations based on ignorant stereotypes.

But Hasan?s personal faith might have had nothing to do with his actions. The New York Times quoted his cousin as saying that Hasan dreaded his imminent deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan and that he was shaken by the horrors conveyed to him by patients who had been traumatized by war.

It could be months before important details are sorted out and become public. It took until October for the Army to release a report about Sgt. John M. Russell, who's accused of killing five people at the Camp Liberty combat stress clinic in Baghdad in May. The 325-page report detailed how Russell's fellow soldiers were worried about his behavior but procedures for dealing with him weren't clear enough.

Military personnel and their families face enormous stresses. These are exacerbated by the long wars the nation has been involved in. The Army is trying to improve its suicide-prevention efforts. But officials must determine what more can be done to improve safety on military bases.

The public can help most by avoiding baseless speculation and instead offering support and thanks for those who serve and their families.

Despite the old ad campaign slogan, there is no such thing as an "Army of One." We're all indebted, and the Army's loss is a loss for all our nation.

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—Fort Worth Star Telegram