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Picking Up the Pieces in Wake of Luby’s Massacre

November 15, 1991 GMT

KILLEEN, Texas (AP) _ A semblance of normalcy is returning to Killeen. The white ribbons and other reminders of last month’s rampage that left 24 people dead are being removed.

Still, as counselor Diane Dunn put it: ″The whole town is looking over its shoulder. There is a real shaking of that secure feeling.″

About 12:40 p.m. on Oct. 16, the day after his 35th birthday, George Hennard smashed his pickup into a crowded Luby’s Cafeteria. He was armed with two semiautomatic pistols as he stalked the some 150 patrons, many at point- blank range. Minutes later, police arrived and began shooting back. Police say that Hennard used his last bullet to kill himself.


Thrown into shock, this area, home of the sprawling Army post Fort Hood, tried to deal with the carnage.

People buried their dead, crowded into churches for memorial services, wore white ribbons, and placed crosses and flowers in front of the restaurant.

Another memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, one month after the shooting. The crosses and flowers will be removed from the front of the cafeteria, as if to say the process of coming to terms with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history also will move to another stage.

But the grieving, shock, anger and fear will continue and be most painful on the first anniversary, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthdays, without loved ones, counselors said.

Charlene Smith, who was shot in the foot, remains shaken. She has trouble sleeping, fears being alone, and doesn’t go out to eat. She has returned to work at her family’s wholesale automotive distributor shop, but can work only a half-day.

″When you don’t want to be alone in your own home of 27 years, something is wrong,″ she said.

Suzanna Gratia, a chiropractor in nearby Copperas Cove, looks at the piles of paper on her work desk. Her father and mother, Al and Ursula Gratia, used to help take care of the business end of her practice.

She and her parents were eating in Luby’s when the shooting started. Her father tried to lunge at Hennard, but was shot in the chest. Mrs. Gratia then crawled over to her husband. Suzanna escaped out a broken window. Her mother stayed with her wounded father ″and comforted him. But (Hennard) got over to her and shot her, too.″

Ms. Gratia said she’s now much more cautious in her daily life.

That caution, spawned by 10 minutes of terror, now dogs many as a general uneasy fear, Mrs. Dunn said.

″People say that I always felt safe in Killeen. Now they say I don’t feel safe anymore and if you try to tell them that it won’t happen again, well that’s just unbelievable,″ she said.

Ms. Gratia said the public’s fascination with mass murderers helps perpetuate the killings.

″This country is wrapped up in beating records. Some other person is going to read about Hennard and decide to go out in a blaze. There is zero doubt in my mind that it is going to happen,″ she said.

Police recovered a videotape from Hennard’s home in nearby Belton about the McDonald’s shooting spree in San Ysidro, Calif., that left 21 dead. And on Thursday, a fired postal worker walked through his old post office in Royal Oak, Mich., killing four and himself. A postal employee said the gunman had vowed revenge and joked about the Luby’s shooting, saying he would do the same.

Many in town feel that one way to help recover from the tragedy is to get Luby’s to reopen. The company has said it will make a decision soon.

″I just don’t think that Luby’s should be a victim of this. It would be just one more notch in George Hennard’s gun,″ said Dennis Walden who visited the shutdown restaurant.

The restaurant windows are covered from the inside with black plastic, and the building itself has become something of a shrine, luring the curious and grieving.

People have left dozens of flower arrangements, and taped cards and poems of encouragement and sympathy to the glass doors.

One poem by Frank Arbuckle of Nolanville talks about the day of the shooting, and ends saying:

″When darkness finally comes at last, and the country safely slept, those in our town closed their blinds and sat and quietly wept.″