Lakeland grad OK at Fort Hood

Published 9:31 pm Thursday, November 5, 2009

FRANKLIN—Ana Stewart of Franklin is used to feeling nervous when her son, 21-year-old Christopher Padgett, is deployed with the U.S. Army to war zones.

She never thought she’d feel that same stress while he was “safe” at home.

Padgett is one of 50,000 residents of Fort Hood in Texas, where a soldier opened fire on a military processing center on Thursday, killing 11 people and wounding 31.

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The gunman, identified as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, was originally thought to be dead as well, but national news sources were saying late Thursday he was alive and in custody.

Stewart said she got a quick phone call from her daughter-in-law, Melissa Padgett, just before authorities began clearing everyone off the base after the massacre.

“She said, ‘Hey Mom, don’t panic, but cut on the news,” Stewart said.

Minutes later, she got a text message from her son, who works in the personnel office on base, that said, “Don’t panic. I’m OK. Love ya.”

Padgett, who attended Lakeland High School in Suffolk, joined the army when he was 17. He has been stationed at Fort Hood for two years.

He has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan for combat and was wounded this summer during his last deployment to the latter.

“He was hit with a fragment of an (rocket-propelled grenade),” she said, adding that she always feared for his safety while he was overseas.

“I wasn’t supposed to worry about this right now,” she said about Thursday’s shooting. “He’s not in Iraq and he’s not in Afghanistan. He’s supposed to be safe.”

Stewart said she was relieved that her son was OK, but her heart went out to the families and friends of the soldiers who were killed. They were reportedly at the Soldier Readiness Center, a place where troops go to prepare for overseas deployment.

“I feel very sorry for all of them,” she said. “These kids are tight. It is a tight group. They’re really, really, really close. Right now they are spazzing out trying to find out where their battle buddies are.”