EL PASO, Texas (AP) — An Army veteran who fatally shot a psychologist at a West Texas veterans' hospital before killing himself was a former clerk at the clinic and had threatened the doctor in 2013, the FBI said Wednesday.
The FBI identified the gunman in Tuesday's shooting as Jerry Serrato, a 48-year-old who was medically discharged from the Army in 2009 after serving in Iraq two years earlier. Douglas Lindquist, who heads the FBI's El Paso office, said Serrato used a .380-caliber handgun to shoot Dr. Timothy Fjordbak, 63, and himself at the El Paso Veterans Affairs Health Care System at Fort Bliss.
Fjordbak was a psychologist who left private practice after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because he wanted to work with military veterans, officials said. Serrato had served in the Ohio Army National Guard from 1985 to 1993, then enlisted in the Army in July 2006, military records show. He served in Iraq for five months in 2007.
Officials did not provide a motive for the shooting. However, Fjordbak had reported Serrato made an unspecified verbal threat against him at an El Paso supermarket in 2013. Serrato had some sort of perceived or real grievance against Fjordbak and had said something to the effect of, "I know what you did and I will take care of it," Lindquist said.
"It was something in public at a grocery store where Mr. Serrato approached Dr. Fjordbak, who did not recognize him, and he made a verbal threat, and that was the extent of the report. As far as we can tell, that was the only connection that they had," Lindquist said.
Both men worked at the VA at the same time in 2013, but authorities do not believe they had a working relationship, Lindquist said. There also was no immediate indication the gunman was a patient, the FBI said.
A security assessment is underway at the clinic in the wake of the shooting, said Peter Dancy, the VA hospital's acting director.
Hundreds of patients, staff and others were at the clinic when the shooting happened.
The shooting comes just four months after the Fort Bliss Commanding Officer Maj. Gen. Stephen Twitty announced new security measures after a military assessment found the base was not fully in compliance with Department of Defense directives. The measures included random vehicle checks and limiting access to Defense Department personnel at some gates. However, four gates still remained open to the public, according to a press release.
On Wednesday, civilians were still able to access the post with only a driver's license, passing through just a single checkpoint manned by several soldiers. Investigators talked outside the closed VA clinic, warning of broken glass, while soldiers entered the adjacent William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
Sutton Smith, a worker at the VA clinic, said a "code white" was issued over the intercom system Tuesday indicating an active shooter and ordering people to seek shelter.
Smith said he hid with about a dozen people in a locked room with the lights off for some two hours. Apart from the initial alert and some communication among managers via cellphone, no official updates were provided during the lockdown, he said.
The El Paso clinic came under scrutiny last year after a federal audit showed it had among the longest wait times for veterans trying to see a doctor for the first time. A survey last year of more than 690 veterans living in El Paso County found that they waited an average of more than two months to see a Veterans Affairs mental health professional and even longer to see a physician.
Michael Rushton, an Air Force veteran and former patient of Fjordbak, said Fjordbak was unique in his ability to differentiate between symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
"He was the only physician there (at the clinic) that did that. The big loss is now that facility doesn't have another person like him. Everybody scheduled to see him now is going to suffer," Rushton said.
Robbins reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Hannah Cushman in Chicago contributed to this report.