Luby’s Cafeteria was a popular restaurant on US Highway 190 at Killeen, Texas, right next to America’s biggest military base, Fort Hood. The lunchtime crowd was bigger than usual with folk from Killeen’s small businesses affectionately celebrating ‘National Bosses Day’. Around 80 people were at the tables when Luby’s huge plate-glass window crashed inwards as 35-year-old George Hennard, from nearby Belton, rammed his Ford Ranger pickup truck straight through it. In the stunned silence, a local vet rushed to the driver’s window to offer help. He was the first to die. Hennard shot him point blank. Then he clambered from the cab yelling ‘This is what Belton did to me!’, and opened fire.
Patrons and staff screamed and dived for cover. There was rising panic as they realized Hennard’s truck blocked the obvious exit. They tried to shrink into invisibility under tables – but Hennard stalked the room, ramming pistols against heads and chests and blasting his victims away. One woman saw her father charge Hennard, only to be shot down. Another patron risked his life by hurling himself through a window to create an escape route for everyone else.
Hennard calmly reloaded and kept firing, a semi-automatic in either hand. He didn’t stop his methodical slaughter even when four policemen screeched up and returned his fire. Finally, wounded and cornered by the police, he turned a gun on himself 14 long minutes after his shattering entrance, leaving 23 dead or dying, and another 20 groaning from their injuries.
Until Virginia Tech in 2007, Luby’s was America’s deadliest ‘spree killing’. It defied explanation or even speculation. As Bishop John McCarthy who led a service at Killeen, said of the murders: ‘Today the lives of the citizens of Killeen are changed. We … faced death, but death in a meaningless context’. It wasn’t even a tragedy – just an empty, pointless disaster.
When: October 16 1991
Where: Luby’s Cafeteria, Killeen, Texas, USA
Death toll: 24 dead (including the perpetrator) and 20 wounded.
You should know: The woman whose father died charging Hennard also saw her mother killed by him. Distraught that she had left her own (legal) handgun in her car as Texas law demanded, she lobbied the Texas legislature – and in 1995 Texan law was changed to allow residents with gun permits to ‘carry and conceal’ their weapons. Had the law existed before Luby’s, Hennard could have been stopped almost immediately.