Mother of Fort Hood soldier recalls panic

Betsy Lopez Fritscher

When Elaine Huska’s longtime friend told her to tune into the news of a shooting spree at Fort Hood on Thursday afternoon, she immediately wondered if her 29-year-old son was a victim of the madness. Army Pfc. Shaun O’Dell, Huska’s youngest of three children, is a wheeled vehicle mechanic stationed at Fort Hood and lives nearby with his wife, Colleen, and nearly 4-month old daughter, Alexis.

“To get a call like this about something going on, I was nervous, but I thought it could be some goofy guy doing something and it was,” she said. “Nowhere in my mind was I expecting for it to be as major as it was. The children move out, but they never move out of your heart.”

Minutes after the phone call from a friend, Huska was probing for answers. Huska’s son enlisted in the Army 22 months ago. He returned in January from an Iraq tour unharmed, but Huska wondered if he could be so lucky again.

“I was immediately trying to scramble and it was like my brain turned dead, I know how to use the Internet, but at that moment I didn’t know how I was going to get the information, we don’t have a TV at the office.”

“He answered his phone and told me he was alive,” she said. “By the time I got the question of what was going on out of my mouth, he was already giving me what little information he knew.

“You’re still nervous until it is all over with, but he knows how to handle a weapon — he’s an avid deer hunter.”

With two sons in the Army, including middle son Staff Sgt. Kenneth O’Dell Jr., Huska isn’t a stranger to combat and tragedy. Her oldest son is a veteran of the Coast Guard.

“I’ve received bad news about my other son (Kenneth) when he was deployed to Iraq,” she said. “Fortunately, Shaun was taking a class that particular day and was in a building a half block away. He could see (chaos), but he wasn’t right next door to it. One of the instructors of the class heard the gunshots and told them to stay in the building. At about that same time, all the warning sirens went off. They had notice, but once those sirens went off — they went into lockdown.”

Huska tried to call hours later to stay informed on the environment at the base, but she said her calls were not going through. She said she believes it was a jam of cell towers receiving a flood of calls from around the country.

“I was able to get a text from him every couple of hours, but it was pretty tight-lipped with security,” she said. “It’s operating as normal, but as of (Sunday), there were still armed guards at all of the buildings and even at places off base.”

Huska said she’s heard criticism of how the situation was handled, but she is grateful government-contracted civilian police were on site.

“A lot of people are not understanding the situation,” she said. “Nobody realizes how big that installation is, it’s the largest Army installation in the country and they contract with civilian police. It’s not that anybody didn’t do their job, it’s that they got there first.”

Huska is thankful for the children she has and grieves for the 13 people killed and 29 others who were wounded in the Thursday rampage, she said.

“I’m just happy he grew up, he’s healthy, he’s strong, got married, gave me a grandbaby and loves his country — it makes me happy,” she said. “As for this other guy that did all of this, I can’t go on record saying what I want to say, but as a military mom you can guess what I’m thinking.”

Betsy López Fritscher can be reached at (815) 987-1377