Hard Lessons From Two Mass Killings In Texas

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A policeman stands in front of the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, where a gunman killed 23 people. i

Oct. 17 1991: A policeman stands in front of the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, where the day before, 23 people were massacred by a gunman who opened fire in the crowded cafeteria before killing himself. Gary Edwards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gary Edwards/AFP/Getty Images
A policeman stands in front of the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, where a gunman killed 23 people.

Oct. 17 1991: A policeman stands in front of the Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, where the day before, 23 people were massacred by a gunman who opened fire in the crowded cafeteria before killing himself.

Gary Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

When a gunman opened fire in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood two weeks ago, killing 13 and wounding 42, some people in Killeen, Texas, immediately thought of an earlier mass casualty.

On Oct. 16, 1991, George Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the front window of a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen and opened fire, killing 23 diners eating lunch. It was the nation's deadliest shooting by a single gunman until the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007.

In some ways, the experience of what's come to be called "the Luby's massacre" informs how the community is responding to the Fort Hood tragedy.

The restaurant on Highway 190 that was Luby's is now the Yank Sing Buffet, popular among soldiers for its all-you-can-eat $9 Chinese buffet.

Most customers don't have a clue what happened here 18 years ago. But Sgt. Arthur Yanez remembers.

"I was stationed in Germany," he said, pausing outside his truck in the parking lot. "I heard on the news that some guy had walked in [and] started shooting people. Unfortunately, there was no one there to defend themselves ... It was a massacre, just like what happened here the other day on post."

Aside from geography and malevolence, the two violent incidents are not that similar.

There are reports that the Fort Hood shooter shouted "God is great" in Arabic; Hennard muttered something about being mistreated by local women before he opened fire.

One gunman targeted U.S. military personnel; the other, random patrons at lunchtime on Boss' Day.

Hennard put a bullet in his head after police arrived. The suspected Fort Hood gunman, Maj. Nidal Hasan, was wounded by police but survived. He's been charged under military law with 13 counts of premeditated murder.

The clearer parallels are about how this community has responded to two mass murders that happened only a couple of miles apart.

"People say, 'How do you overcome something like this?' Well, you don't really overcome it," said Major Blair, who was Killeen's mayor in 1991.

"You begin to do what you think is necessary to cause people to mellow and get a hold of their life. But we've come through it real strong, and we've got stronger because of it."

The victims' assistance coordinator at the Bell County District Attorney's Office in 1991 was Jill Hargrove. She's still there, and she's pleased when she hears people say, "Oh, I forgot all about Luby's."

"That's what we want. We don't want people to live every day going, 'Oh, this is where Luby's happened,' " Hargrove said.

Then, as now, there were grief counselors and prayer services at churches; people lined up outside blood banks — and flocks of reporters descended.

"We had just started Desert Storm," Hargrove said.

"So, all the counselors were prepared for soldiers to come home, widows to be here. We were prepared for all that. No one was prepared for a restaurant scene to turn into a mass murder."

One of the more public figures to emerge from the Luby's massacre was Suzanna Hupp. On that day in 1991, she was a young chiropractor, eating lunch with her parents at Luby's. The pickup truck driver shot her parents dead in the dining room.

"My gun was 100 feet away, out in the parking lot in my car," Hupp said, "because at that time in the state of Texas, it was illegal to carry." She claims that if she'd had her pistol with her, she would have stood up, aimed and taken Hennard out.

Hupp rode her grief and outrage into the Texas Legislature, where as a lawmaker representing Killeen, she won passage of the state's concealed handgun law. It does not apply on military bases.

At a cafe in her hometown of Lampasas, Hupp packs a Kel-Tec .380 in her purse; her chair faces the door. Luby's changed her.

"I do consider myself much more aware," Hupp said. "When I'm sitting in a restaurant, I notice where the exits are. I definitely notice if a single man walks through the door and looks odd for some reason."

When she heard about the shooting at the Army post down the road, her mind raced back to the Luby's dining room and the human tendency to think, "It can never happen to me."

Of one thing Hupp is sure: No matter how many years pass, the Fort Hood shooting will forever change everyone who was there.

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