Serra Mesa, California, US
United States Army
CPT, US Army Reserves 1908th Medical Detachment
Fort Hood, US, 11/05/2009
Three weeks after 13 people were shot and killed at Fort Hood, Texas, new details are emerging about an Army Reserve captain who died trying to fight off the gunman before police arrived.
Investigators are still sorting out the actions of Capt. John Gaffaney, 56, a psychiatric nurse. But according to varying eyewitness accounts, Gaffaney either picked up a chair and threw it at Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, the accused killer, or physically rushed him from across the room. Army Maj. Gen. Lie-Ping Chang, commander of the reserve force to which Gaffaney belonged, said that two eyewitnesses recounted how the reservist threw a folding chair and “tried to knock (Hasan) down or knock his gun down.”
Army Reserve Col. Kathy Platoni, a clinical psychologist who served with Gaffaney, said she was told that he rushed Hasan to within inches before being shot several times. Platoni said she comforted Gaffaney as he lay dying in a building nearby where soldiers brought him after he was mortally wounded, ripping off pieces of their uniform to use as pressure bandages or tourniquets to stem his massive bleeding from multiple wounds.
“I have no idea precisely what his actions were,” says Army spokesman Jay Adams at Fort Hood. “But … I am sure there is truth in those accounts.”
Christine Gaffaney said accounts of her husband’s actions “didn’t surprise me. It sounded just like John. He wouldn’t be the one who would be ducking or staying out of harm’s way. He would have been trying to protect everyone else.”
Her husband was a psychiatric nurse preparing to deploy to Iraq. The couple’s home was in San Diego. She says she learned of John Gaffaney’s actions while attending a memorial service at Fort Hood for the 13 killed. Among the dead was Army Capt. Russell Seager, 51, who had been teamed up with Gaffaney as a partner or “battle buddy” since their training exercises together.
A soldier approached her at Fort Hood to say John Gaffaney saved his life, she says. A chaplain who counseled grieving troops from Gaffaney’s unit also described her husband’s heroics. Gaffaney was a supervisor for the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency assisting seniors who had financial problems or were victims of abuse. A Navy veteran who later served 15 years with the California Army National Guard before retiring as a major, he had been eager to re-join the military after Sept. 11, 2001.
Aware that the Army was in dire need of mental health workers as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, Gaffaney took the lower rank of captain to serve as a psychiatric nurse in the Army Reserve.
Gaffaney was an avid San Diego Padres fan who had restored a 1965 Mustang right down to the fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, and had purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle earlier this year.
“I want people to know that my husband was a hero,” says Christine Gaffaney.
“(And) he was my best friend.”