Commentary: We must not jump to conclusions in Fort Hood tragedy

A tragedy as stunning as Thursday’s mass killings at Fort Hood evokes extreme emotions.

Perspective is difficult — but absolutely necessary to understanding what happened and its implications.

The rush of information after 13 people were shot to death at the U.S. Army base was at once extensive, incomplete and occasionally wrong.

Military officials believe Maj. Nidal Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, fired a handgun in a center where about 300 soldiers were waiting to get vaccinations and eye tests as they prepared to deploy overseas.

A female police officer is credited with wounding Hasan, who was taken to an area hospital under custody.

Many details about his background emerged quickly: He was born in Arlington, Va., to Palestinians who moved to the U.S. from Israel. He grew up in Virginia's Roanoke Valley and graduated from Virginia Tech University. He received a medical degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and worked six years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A lifelong Muslim, he attended a mosque in Silver Spring, Md. He moved to Fort Hood in July.

But much is not publicly known yet, including his motive, partly because officials had not interviewed him. He was in a coma on Friday and on a ventilator, according to news reports. Investigators will have to determine whether his behavior had provided warning signs that he might engage in such mindless violence. And the public will want to know what would cause a military officer to fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.

A key point to remember is that even though authorities believe Hasan was the gunman, even if he is formally charged in the killings, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until the government proves he's guilty.

Some news outlets seem obsessed with Hasan's religion. Some online commentators have seized the opportunity to spew hateful denunciations based on ignorant stereotypes.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.