Death penalty closure for Fort Hood victims? Not quite

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 10:09 PM

At the sentencing of Nidal Hasan last week for the Fort Hood shootings, Shoua Her tried to convey how the murder of her husband, Pfc. Kham Xiong, unraveled her family’s life.

“Vacations are now just dreams that I once had,” she said. “My kids will not know their father but through stories and others memories of him.

“I miss him a lot. I miss his soft gentle hands, how he held me, he made me feel safe and secure. Now the other side of the bed’s empty and cold. I feel dead but yet alive. He was my other half. He was my best friend.”

It has been an emotional week for Her, of North St. Paul. Hasan’s death sentence should have been seen as the justice she has wanted ever since Hasan murdered her husband on Nov. 5, 2009. But in a way, a larger fight remains.

The Department of Defense has called Hasan’s rampage, which killed 13 and wounded 32, an act of “workplace violence” rather than a terrorist attack, depriving the victims’ families of many benefits given to those killed in combat.

Her is now part of a lawsuit against the government to try to receive some of those benefits, and on Thursday several Texas lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to treat people like Xiong and Her the same as victims of Sept. 11.

“[The sentencing] was a little bit of closure,” said Her, who returned to Minnesota on Tuesday. “It’s a relief to see that he will be punished.”

“A part of me can move on now,” Her said, “but another part of me has to deal with the rest of it.”

That includes legislation or the lawsuit to make things right with the victims.

Reed Rubenstein, the lawyer for the survivors and families, said various agencies were well aware of Hasan’s increasing radicalism and contacts with jihadists abroad.

The mass murder was “the result of colossal, inexcusable failure by top bureaucrats in the Pentagon and FBI,” Rubenstein said.

“Her’s story is just amazing,” Rubenstein said. “It’s a story the media and Hollywood should love. [Instead]: crickets.”

Her and Xiong were eighth-grade sweethearts. They married and were raising three young children in St. Paul when Xiong, a refugee whose family fled communism, enlisted in 2008. Xiong was following his family’s tradition of military service. His father, grandfather and two great uncles fought the Viet Cong in the “Secret War” in Laos.

Xiong and Her were at Fort Hood, awaiting his deployment to Afghanistan that November day. Her texted him to see if he was coming home for lunch. When she texted him again a little while later, he didn’t answer.

Her, who works part time and is studying for a degree in social work, said both families have helped her immensely since her husband’s death.

“I get asked by everybody how I get by,” Her said. “Sometimes I’m surprised I have gotten this far.”

Given the family’s military history, Her “was surprised that a lot of [victims’] families never got housing or mental health care. I just expected medical and dental [coverage] to take care of my kids.”

Xiong and the others have also been denied Purple Hearts, awarded to soldiers killed or wounded in battle. Her believes her husband deserves the honor, even though the terrorist who killed him did it inside the United States.

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