Two Domestic Terrorist Attacks Documented with Leica ScanStation
Killeen, Texas Police Department forensic team, using a Leica Geosystems 3D scanner, plays a crucial role in crime scene mapping of two notorious high-profile incidents: the Ft. Hood shooting and the suicide plane crash into the Austin, Texas IRS building.
Killeen, Texas—Shortly after 1:30 on the afternoon of November 5, 2009, police at the sprawling U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, alerted area law enforcement agencies of an active shooter on the post —possibly more than one— resulting in mass casualties. Within minutes, Dennis Baldwin, Chief of Police of Killeen, a city of 130,000 directly adjacent to the post, set up an Incident Command Center and contacted the Fort Hood police to offer assistance.
A 27-year veteran with the Killeen Police Department, Chief Baldwin is no stranger to horrific crimes. Eighteen years earlier a deranged man had crashed his pick-up into nearby Luby’s Restaurant where he then used two semi-automatic pistols to kill 23 people and wound 20 more before committing suicide. That event stood as the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history until the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre of 32 students and staff.
“Several of us had been through the Luby’s massacre,” Baldwin explained,” And we knew what people were going through on the scene. In those situations there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation at first. We knew the best thing was to lend a hand but don’t get in the way.”
The Fort Hood authorities requested a tactical response team and assistance in stopping traffic coming onto the post. The Tactical Response Unit responded to assist in securing the area and search for any additional suspects, while surrounding agencies assisted KPD in traffic management near the post’s entrances. Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world, covering 350 square miles and serving as home to 55,000 military personnel. Shortly thereafter, the base’s Criminal Investigation Division made a second request of Chief Baldwin: to send his department’s forensic team with its recently acquired Leica Geosystems’ 3D Laser Scanner.
“We were the first—and at that time the only—agency here in Texas to have a scanner, and the Fort Hood police had become aware of its remarkable capabilities,” Baldwin said. “We immediately deployed our team.”
“We were there within an hour after the shooting,” remembers Detective Keith Drozd (rhymes with rose), who led the team. “It was a very high-stress environment with people running around everywhere. Certainly the largest crime scene I’ve ever been on—a row of six buildings the length of a football field and almost as wide, a parking lot on either side of the buildings. Outside there was medical paraphernalia everywhere, blood everywhere on the ground. Windows broken where people had thrown chairs through the glass to escape. The dead were still inside the building, but the shooter had also come outside and shot people. A few of the wounded were still on the ground being treated.”
Drozd and his team went to work, scanning both inside the buildings and outside, taking advantage of the ScanStation’s robust long-range measurement capability. Their mapping work was crucial. Although the FBI, which soon took charge of the investigation, had several laser scanners, two were in use in Iraq and the others were back at FBI headquarters in Virginia. Regional agency investigators had only a total station, which they brought to the scene.
“The next day, after we wrapped up our scans, we met with an FBI computer technician,” Drozd recalls. “He works a lot with CAD programs (Computer Assisted Design) and we were able to download to his computer all the scan data we had collected. We later learned that (with a technical assist from Leica Geosystems) the FBI was able to generate an impressive presentation that they showed to President Obama during a White House briefing. It was an honor to have given them that data to show the president.”
Drozd credits the Leica ScanStation’s ease of use for giving his team confidence even while working in a highly charged environment under a national spotlight. “I can’t imagine how hard documenting a crime scene like Fort Hood would be without this Leica scanner. Using only tape measures, a total station and a plumb bob would have taken us days. With the ScanStation, even though your anxiety level is high and there’s immense pressure to get it right, you know this is a very easy instrument to operate.”
Chief Baldwin concurs: “The Fort Hood shooting, with its massive crime scene, really showed us what tremendous capabilities the Leica ScanStation has. The agencies in our area quickly came to realize how important the technology is to forensically mapping these very difficult crime scenes."
A little more than three months after the Fort Hood shooting, the Killeen Police Department’s forensic team was again asked to assist with a high-profile incident, this one in Austin, Texas, just 75 miles south of Killeen. At 9:56 a.m. on February 18, 2010, a suicidal, disgruntled tax payer, Andrew Joseph Stack, deliberately flew his Piper Dakota airplane into a seven-story office building containing the field office of the Internal Revenue Service. The collision caused a huge fireball and explosion that led to later speculation that Stack had replaced the passenger seats on his plane with drums of aviation fuel before taking off. The crash killed Stack and an IRS office worker and wounded 13 others, two seriously. Detective Drozd and three detectives responded immediately.
As it happened, at the time of the crash the FBI’s major incident crime scene investigation unit was holding a staff meeting at its regional office in the building right next door. The chief investigator, who was familiar with the Killeen Police Department’s outstanding work with its Leica 3D laser scanner during the Fort Hood incident, immediately contacted the KPD and asked for their forensic team and scanner to come to the crash scene. Detective Drozd and three detectives responded immediately.
Arriving on scene, Drozd once again found himself working literally in the glare of spotlights surrounded by a media circus. “There were plenty of news trucks with satellite dishes and reporters and camera crews everywhere. The whole front of the building was shattered, blown and burned. We set up just outside the perimeter of a debris field that was about seventy yards wide and sixty yards deep. Filing cabinets, office furniture, glass and wreckage that had been blown from the building were scattered everywhere.”
Drozd’s team was soon joined by Austin resident and Leica Geosystems trainer Karen Hughes, who lives just 15 minutes from the IRS building and who volunteered to provide any assistance that might be needed during the scanning. The crime scene they faced this time differed significantly from the Fort Hood setting. Here the primary focus was a large gaping hole in the front of the building between the third and fourth story.
“Just behind us was a large dirt embankment, maybe thirty feet high,” Drozd explained. “What had happened was the plane actually hit the embankment first and exploded—the front end of the aircraft bounced up and into the window while the back end hit a large steel support beam. We were facing a forensic scene unlike any we’d had before.”
“There was no possible way that investigators could have mapped the damage to the side of that building with traditional measuring tools, let alone even accessed it,” Drozd explained. “The collision opening was three stories above us and no one was allowed inside until engineers had determined it would not collapse. We worked our way across the building front and captured multiple scans. The Leica ScanStation performed flawlessly.”
The ScanStation’s data files for both the Fort Hood and Austin crime scenes were essential elements of the evidence gathered in both incidents. In the Fort Hood shooting, a single assailant, Army Major Nidal Hasan, was charged. That case has not yet gone to trial, but the Leica ScanStation data files will be used to generate numerous exhibits for use in that court proceeding when it does take place.
“Regardless of what crimes our detectives are responsible for processing,” explained Chief Baldwin, “It’s nice to know that the Leica ScanStation is capable of handling it. The system is easy to use and quickly provides forensic mapping and allows detectives to virtually ‘return’ to the crime scene for investigative follow-up. My detectives believe it is truly a remarkable system. Moreover, there’s no better method to present a case in a court room.”
While the Killeen Police Department has used its Leica 3D scanner on numerous major crimes, its successful experience deploying the system in the extremely challenging crime scene environments presented by the Fort Hood shooting and the Austin plane crash provided a powerful validation of the Leica ScanStation’s formidable capabilities. “Unfortunately in today’s society, we are seeing horrific crimes committed,” Chief Baldwin concluded. “These crime scenes can be very difficult to process. Having a system that can forensically measure these scenes is invaluable to the law enforcement mission. I believe other police chiefs are realizing this
fact, as well.
Written by Tony Grissim