Capt. Antonio D. Brown wasn't on duty or in uniform when he was shot dead early Sunday morning, one of 49 victims in what some have called the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. But the incident has been labeled a terrorist attack by both the White House and the Justice Department, and new award criteria that shaped the 2015 decisions to award Purple Hearts to victims of shootings in Chattanooga (earlier that year) and at Fort Hood (in 2009) could apply regardless of the service member's duty status.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry Pionk said the service "will need the facts and clarifications from law enforcement to make future determinations" regarding Brown's situation. Such facts likely won't be available while the shooting remains under investigation.
Nearly 50 people were killed or injured by Maj. Nidal Hasan during the 2009 Fort Hood rampage, an event initially considered workplace violence by the Defense Department. In December 2014, language in the defense authorization act redefined the types of attacks in which victims would be eligible for a Purple Heart, adding a section to federal law that allows such awards if the attack is made by a "foreign terrorist organization."
(A) the individual or entity was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack; and ``(B) the attack was inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.
Army officials told Army Times at the time of the 2015 awards that they had concluded Hasan was in communication with foreign terrorist agents before the shooting, and that his actions could be considered "inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization."
Four Marines and a sailor received posthumous Purple Hearts in December 2015, about five months after they were killed by Mohammad Abdulazeez at Navy Operational Support Center Chattanooga. A fifth Marine injured by Abdulazeez in a separate shooting at a recruiting center also received the award.
"Following an extensive investigation, the FBI and [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] have determined that this attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group, the final criteria required for the awarding of the Purple Heart to this sailor and these Marines," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement announcing the awards.
Recent precedent shows Brown's status as out of uniform and off duty at the time of the attack may not factor into any award discussion. Then-Airman Spencer Stone received a Purple Heart for injuries suffered while foiling a gunman's planned attack on a train in France last August; Stone was on vacation at the time with two friends, including Spc. Alek Skarlatos of the Oregon National Guard, who received the Soldier's Medal for his role in the melee.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.