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The Shocking Mass Shooting at Luby's Cafeteria

by Lawrence Lease 5 months ago in investigation
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One of the deadliest mass shootings in Texas

The Shocking Mass Shooting at Luby's Cafeteria
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

35-year-old George Hennard was an unemployed merchant seaman who drove his 1987 Ford Ranger truck through the front window of Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen. This senseless act of violence occurred October 16th, 1991.

What set apart this day was October 16th was Boss's Day leading to an unusually busy Luby's Cafeteria. There was nearly 150 people inside the restaurant at the time of the shooting. Hennard began shooting from his truck while holding a Glock 17 and Ruger P89 pistol. Hennard's first victim was local veterinarian Michael Griffith.

Witnesses say that Hennard got out of his truck yelling: "All women of Killeen and Belton are vipers! This is what you've done to me and my family! This is what Bell County did to me ... this is payback day!"

He then started firing on the patrons and staff. Hennard then began selectively picking his victims. He started shooting at women and approached one saying "You bitch" before fatally shooting her. Hennard then found a woman hiding underneath a bench and shot her dead. Hennard then approached Steve Ernst who was hiding under a table and shot him. Steve rolled over holding his stomach.

The shooter then made his way towards a woman and her baby. Hennard let her leave with the woman. The woman ran out of the building, holding the baby in her arms. Hennard then went back to shooting and shot Ernst's wife in the arm, which went clean through her arm and ended up killing 70-year-old Venice Henehan.

During the chaos, a brief lull allowed 28-year-old Tommy Vaughan to throw himself through a window allowing himself and several others to escape. When emergency personnel arrived, more than a third of the victims managed to flee the bloody scene.

The police criticized for their response

Hennard managed to reload multiple times before law enforcement eventually arrived and entered into a shootout with them. Police were able to wound the shooter, who then retreated to an area near the restrooms. Patrons managed to hide in the bathrooms, while blocking the doors. Hennard was ordered to surrender but instead said he was going to kill more people. Police ended up shooting him twice in the abdomen. By now, he was running low on ammo and his injuries were becoming more severe, he ended up shooting himself in the head with the final bullet.

At the end of the day, he had killed 23 people, including 10 with single shots to the head at point-blank range, while wounding another 27.

The perpetrator

Police identified the shooter as George Pierre Hennard. He was born October 15th, 1956 to a wealthy family in Pennsylvania. He was the son of a Swiss-born surgeon and a homemaker. He was the oldest child, with a brother Alan and sister Desiree. The family ended up moving across the country, as his father worked at several army hospitals.

The eventually relocated to New Mexico, when his father began working at the White Sands Missile Range. Hennard graduated from Mayfield High School in 1974 and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served for only three years, when he was honorably discharged.

He then found work as a merchant mariner but was fired for drug use. He eventually enrolled in a drug treatment program in Houston.

During the course of the investigation, the Killeen police chief noted Hennard had a serious problem with women for some reason. His parents eventually divorced in 1983, with his father moving to Houston and his mother moving to Henderson, Nevada. The two weapons he used were purchased at Mike's Gun House, a local Henderson gun shop.

During this time Hennard found work with construction crews in South Dakota and Killeen, while living in Henderson, Nevada with his mother in Belton, in a home his family bought. Hennard began to show his criminal tendencies against women when he began staking two sisters, Jill Fritz and Jana Jemigan, who lived two blocks away from him in his neighborhood.

He sent them a five-page letter in June, part of which said: "Please give me the satisfaction of someday laughing in the face of all those mostly white treacherous female vipers from those two towns [Killeen and Belton] who tried to destroy me and my family" and “You think the three of us can get together someday?"

Motive

Police quickly looked to discover a motive for this horrific shooting that shook Killeen. He was described as reclusive and belligerent with a serious explosive temper. He ended up being discharged from the Merchant Marine for possession of marijuana and multiple racial incidents. He had his seaman papers suspended over a racial argument with a fellow shipmate. Hennard was known for expressing hatred for women, blacks, gays and Hispanics.

He always had a derogatory comment about them, especially when he fought with his mother. Survivors pointed out that Hennard passed over men to specifically shoot at women. In 1990, Hennard called port agent Isaiah Williams from the National Maritime Union in Wilmington, California requesting a letter of recommendation in hopes of regaining his papers. Williams did not send a letter and Hennard later learned that his attempt to be reinstated was denied. Months later he entered a drug treatment program in Houston.

Two months prior, Hennard entered a store in Belton to buy breakfast. The employee working Mead, says Hennard leaned over the counter and said "I want you to tell everybody if they don't quit messing around my house something awful is going to happen." A week before the shooting, Hennard picked up his paycheck at a cement company and announced he was quitting his job. A coworker claimed that Hennard was talking out loud about what would happen if he murdered someone.

Hennard celebrated his 35th birthday on October 15th, 1991 and spoke to his mother on the phone. Later that day, Hennard yelled at the television coverage of Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings and just went off. A manager said he just started screaming at the tv.

The aftermath of the Luby's Shooting

Congress was getting ready to vote on an anti-crime bill the day after the massacre. Some of the victims were constituents of Rep. Chet Edwards, and he ended up no longer opposing a gun control provision that was part of the bill. The provision did not pass, and would have banned some weapons and magazines, similar to the ones Hennard used in the Luby's massacre.

Families of deceased victims, survivors, and policemen received counseling for grief, shock, and stress.

Gun rights advocates in cluding the Texas State Rifle Association among others fought to allow its citizens to carry concealed weapons. Governor Ann Richards of course vetoed any of those bills. However, in 1995 Republican governor George W. Bush signed one bill into law. The legislation was campaigned by survivor Suzanna Hupp, whose parents were killed by Hennard. She later said that she would have liked to have had her .38 revolver, however it was several hundreds feet away in her car. Hupp then later took her message across the country in support of concealed handgun legislation and eventually was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1996.

A granite memorial was constructed behind the Killeen Community Center with the date of the massacre and names of the victims.

investigation

About the author

Lawrence Lease

Alaska born and bred, Washington DC is my home. I'm also a freelance writer. Love politics and history.

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