Five months pregnant and 40 minutes late for work, Angela Wilson hurried into Luby’s Cafeteria Wednesday from her doctor’s appointment. A friend was filling in for her in the bakery. Angela had promised to be back at noon to relieve him, and here it was 12:40 already.
The cafeteria, a spacious, light-filled, red-brick affair, was only 21 months old and a big hit in town. It was packed when Wilson walked briskly in, and people still were arriving.
Celebration was in the air. In addition to the regular lunchtime crowd were table after table of people feting their supervisors on Boss’s Day.
They came from all walks of life. They were school administrators and auto mechanics. They were retirees and secretaries. They were soldiers of war and men of God. But for one compressed eternity Wednesday they all would be brought together in a terrifying tableau of death.
For this, to her regret, Wilson had arrived just in time.
George Jo Hennard’s blue pickup truck came crashing through a front window seconds after she walked through the door. And then commenced the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
The truck had stopped not far from the table where Sam Wink, an attendance officer for the Killeen public schools, sat eating fish and mashed potatoes and talking with five co-workers, including Patricia Carney.
The newly named director of elementary curriculum and an employee of the district for 27 years, Carney had almost missed the lunch. It was only at the last minute that she asked to join the group, one of two groups from the school district at the cafeteria Wednesday.
Later, Wink would muse, near tears, at how providence would spare him while taking the life of his friend and co-worker.
After stopping his truck, Hennard got out, holding a pistol, and calmly approached the man nearest him.
“The man was on his knees trying to get up,” said Eddie Sanchez. “All he could do was see the gun in his face. He put his hands up and he (Hennard) shot him.”
Sanchez had rushed back into the restaurant, stepping over broken glass. He had just dropped off Wilson, his girlfriend, and had not yet driven away.
“Angie! Angie!” he cried out.
After shooting a second man, Hennard apparently heard Sanchez and whirled toward him, firing at the unemployed construction worker. He missed.
Then Hennard walked through the dining room, shouting and firing into bodies at close range.
“Our eyes met at one point,” Wink said. “I was 12 feet in front of him. I thought this is it. Then a lady moved to the left of us. He turned around and looked at her and I made a dash for the door.”
It wasn’t until later that Wink learned Carney had been killed, along with two other school district employees at another table, Nancy Stansbury and Ruth Pujol.
An untold number of diners survived the ordeal because of Tommy Vaughn.
A huge man--6-feet-6 and 330 pounds--Vaughn had been about to sit down to lunch when the truck crashed into the restaurant.
Now he and eight fellow employees of a nearby Mazda dealership were huddled in the back of the room, near one of the eight-foot high, plate-glass windows.
They had come to treat Paul LaBombard, a fellow mechanic, to a celebratory birthday lunch.
Now they were trapped, with no way out but through the window. The men started trying to kick out the glass, to no avail. It was too thick.
A woman cried out: “Oh, My God!” Then someone shouted: “He’s coming this way.”
Vaughn looked up over the table he was hiding behind, saw that Hennard was not near, then leaped to his feet and hurled himself into the plate glass window, opening an escape hatch through which streamed several dozen people.
His was not the only act of heroism.
For one thing, after Sanchez was sent scurrying by the gunman, he headed to a side door and reentered the building, looking for his girlfriend.
Reunited with her, he said he then tried to use a telephone in the building to call for help. But, flustered, he got the number wrong and had to flee when he saw Hennard approach.
And after Wink fled the building through an emergency exit, and after the police had started to arrive, Wink said he yelled back in to Hennard in an effort to draw him outside.
“I was yelling: ‘You missed me, you sucker. You don’t have the guts to shoot me now. Shoot me if you can hit me.’ ”
He said he attracted Hennard’s attention and the gunman walked in his direction, then got distracted by movement within the cafeteria and started firing again.
A number of people who survived the ordeal said they don’t know if they could ever set foot in the building again, should the restaurant ever reopen.
Peter Erben, president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio-based cafeteria chain, said no determination has been made about whether the restaurant would reopen.
Until a decision is made, he said employees will remain on the payroll.
The company also donated $100,000 to a fund to assist families of the victims and rented 40 rooms at a local motel for relatives of victims.
HEB, a local supermarket chain, donated $10,000 to the fund.
Fred Latham, Killeen mayor pro tem, praised support organizations and individuals in the community, which he said immediately sprung into action Wednesday and Thursday.
The quick response time, he said, was due to the community’s preparedness during the Persian Gulf war, when 26,000 troops from nearby Ft. Hood were sent to the Middle East.
“This kind of thing you can’t prepare for,” he said. “It was an isolated event and it was done by a person who was crazy or whatever.”
But while he said the city of 65,000 was still in shock, he said “we’re trying to come together as best we can.”
Despite their close brushes with death, and despite the difficulty survivors had sleeping Wednesday night, a number of survivors returned to work Thursday.
“We just had to be together,” said Elaine Wood, a clerk at the automobile dealership where Vaughn works. “It was a family thing. You had to make sure everybody made it through the night.”
Since the tragedy, she said, “you just keep reliving it and going through it. You couldn’t sleep. You couldn’t clear your eyes . . . You tried to say a prayer for the ones that were lost, but you couldn’t because your mind was going full speed. . . .”
“Just thank God for Tommy (Vaughan),” she said.
Police listed the following as dead following the shooting at Luby’s. No hometowns or ages were provided.
Pat Carney, Jimmie Eugene Caruthers, Lt. Col. Steven Charles Dody, Al Gratia, Ursula Kunath Gratia, Debra Gray, Michael Griffith, Venice Ellen Henehan, Clodine Humphrey, Sylvia Mathilde King, Zona Hunnicut Lynn, Connie Den Miller, Ruth M. Pujol, Su-zann Neal Rashott, John Raymond Romero Jr., Thomas Earl Simmons, Glen Arval Spivey, Nancy Hedgepeth Stansbury, Olgica Andonovska Taylor, James W. Welch, Lula B. Welch, Juanita C. Williams.
In the space of 10 minutes the worst mass shooting in U.S. history occurs. In Killeen, Tex., the largest of four towns adjacent to Ft. Hood, gunman George Jo Hennard opens fire on a lunchtime crowd of about 100 cafeteria patrons and workers Wednesday.
1. Blue pickup speeds into parking lot, accelerates and crashes through glass front of crowded cafeteria.
2. Gunman steps out of truck and shoots people at an unhurried pace.
Man breaks glass with chairs so people can escape.
3. Gunman commits suicide in restroom.
Some victims are flown to Ft. Hood’s Army hospital.
WEAPON: Glock 17 Ammunition clip CALIBER: 9mm CLIP: 17-round box magazine WEIGHT: 19.38 to 20.65 ounces VELOCITY: 1,180 feet per second Source: Austin American-Statesman, Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, Waco Tribune-Herald and Killeen Daily Herald