THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Mother’s fears eased with text message

Keith Eastman is a helicopter pilot. Keith Eastman is a helicopter pilot.
By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / November 6, 2009

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The first word of the tragedy came in the form of a text message, and even then the information was scarce.

“He let us know he was OK,’’ said Celeste Eastman, a mother from Plainville. “But the thought still goes through your mind.’’

Her son, Keith Eastman, a 26-year-old Army chief warrant officer and Apache helicopter pilot based with the 4th Infantry Division, was at Fort Hood in Texas just as yesterday’s shooting rampage that left 12 dead and more than 30 others wounded began.

He was in a meeting when a commanding officer told him and others that there was a shooting, and that the military base would go into lockdown. With little cellphone service, and no communications in the room, all the soldiers could do was text.

That’s how Eastman learned her son was in the thick of the tragedy.

“There was a scare for a while that the gunman was loose, and until all the information came out, that’s all we had to go on,’’ Eastman said.

She kept in contact with Eastman’s wife, Stephanie, who was with the couple’s two children - a girl, 3, and a boy, 1 - at their home in nearby Killeen, Texas. Eastman texted both of them to assure them he was OK. By the time he could leave, it took three hours to get off the base, the traffic was so bad.

The thought of the shooting was still unnerving for Celeste Eastman late last night, hours after that first text message. She had been at the base a week ago, during Halloween, buying groceries and doing other things.

She knew her son’s life in the military could put him in danger. But not like this.

“It just doesn’t seem possible that something like this could happen, and even more shocking that it could happen from one of their own,’’ she said.

But Keith Eastman is safe and sound, she was assured. Today, no one is allowed on the base while the incident remains under investigation.

“I guess it will take a while for that base to mourn and heal from their loss,’’ she said.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.