The Massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria
WEDNESDAY, October 16, 1991, started out like any other day for my wife, Paula, and me. Now we look back on it as unlike any day we have ever known.
That afternoon we were in Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, when a crazed man crashed his truck through the plate-glass window and began shooting. He killed 22 and wounded over 20 others, finally shooting himself in the head. It was the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history.
Paula and I are full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we had stopped at Luby’s after a morning in the ministry. Earlier about 50 of us had met at our place of worship, the Kingdom Hall, and discussed our morning’s activity before starting out. Several suggested that we get together at Luby’s for lunch, but all except Maria, Paula, and me changed their plans.
We arrived at Luby’s at 12:25 p.m. and got into the serving line. Since it was moving slowly, Maria, who had a Bible study to conduct at one o’clock, decided to leave. Paula went to the rest room. Thankfully, she returned quickly—for a few seconds later, the truck crashed through the window she had just passed.
The sound was like tons of dishes being dropped. Glass, tables, and chairs were flying everywhere. Then there was a popping sound. I thought the truck was backfiring. Some believed the driver was having problems with his vehicle and went to help him. But he shot them. Someone shouted in disbelief: “He’s shooting people!” He began firing even before he got out of the truck.
The serving line was in a U shape. We were right where the U curves. The truck stopped at the beginning of the U where the cashier’s stand was located. Paula grabbed my hand, saying: “Let’s get out of here.” But I pulled her to the floor. The gunman was on his way down the serving line, firing as he came. During the whole time, he was shouting things such as, “Was it worth it Bell County? Was it worth it Belton?” This was interspersed with obscenities.
He came within a few feet of us, shooting constantly as he walked. We never saw his face, but he was so close that we felt the floor vibrate as the bullets hit. Both Paula and I were silently praying to Jehovah. We lay motionless; those who moved were shot. I was holding my wife’s ankles with my hands, not knowing whether she was alive or dead.
Then he backtracked, firing all the way. He came down the other side of the U serving line, stopping near my feet. He fired a shot at the woman behind me. “Here’s one for you,” he said as he pumped the bullet into her. Just before he fired, she had said: “He’s coming toward us.” Possibly she had raised her head.
The shot was so loud that I thought I had been hit. Then I heard the gunman turn and go into the dining area, 50 or 60 feet [15 or 20 m] away. I knew that in that area, there was a wall partially separating us from his sight. So I finally raised myself up to see if Paula was all right, and she did the same, saying, “Let’s go!”
We hurried out through the front door, and about eight or ten others did the same. An elderly lady who wasn’t able to walk fast moved in front of us. We forced ourselves to be patient in spite of our anxiety. We ran through an open lot about the size of a football field and took refuge in an apartment house nearby. We called a friend and asked her to meet us down the street.
As we were leaving the building, we saw police approaching from the other direction. Already helicopters were arriving to carry the wounded away. We were still nervous, not knowing where the gunman was. When our friend arrived, she was crying. She had heard the news on the radio.
Coping With the Aftereffects
We returned home, and friends kept coming by to see us. How comforting their presence was! The following morning, as is our custom, we started out in our public ministry. En route, I picked up a newspaper, and the reports brought the whole episode vividly back to mind. We realized we weren’t ready emotionally to face the public, so we returned home.
For weeks afterward, walking into public places made us nervous. Once we went into a hamburger place and someone popped a balloon. That really jangled our nerves! Trauma specialists say the best therapy for those who experience the kind of tragedy we did is to talk freely about it. How grateful we were for the visits of friends during the days that followed, which permitted us to do this!
One of our friends told Paula: “The ministry will heal you.” She was right. Although Paula hesitated to join in our public ministry that first week, she quickly resumed the door-to-door ministry and conducted Bible studies after that.
The Bible is surely correct when it warns that isolating oneself incurs problems. (Proverbs 18:1) We learned that some, including persons who weren’t even at the restaurant that day, isolated themselves. As a result, even months after the massacre, they were still afraid to go out in public.
What has particularly helped us cope with this experience is an understanding of Bible prophecies. Our days are identified in God’s Word as “the last days [when] critical times hard to deal with will be here.” (2 Timothy 3:1) So such tragedies as the massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria are, sad to say, to be expected. Indeed, a widely recognized expert, Dr. James A. Fox, noted that of the ten largest mass murders in American history, eight have occurred since 1980.
Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and coauthor of the book Mass Murder, said that these mass killings reflect a breakdown in society and the economy. “A lot more middle-aged males feel life has passed them by,” he said. “They have lost their jobs or been divorced. The support systems that used to be there are disintegrating, like the family and the church.” Apparently that was the case with the murderer, 35-year-old George J. Hennard, who had come from a broken family and who had recently lost his seaman’s papers because of suspected drug abuse.
Yes, people need the Bible-based hope of the righteous new world that God promises. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4) Our confidence that all of today’s tragedies will soon be but a faint memory has sustained Paula and me through this trialsome time. God has truly comforted us, as his Word promises he would. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)—As told by Sully Powers.
[Picture on page 23]
Police inspect the interior of Luby’s Cafeteria where a gunman crashed a truck through the front window
Courtesy of Killeen Daily Herald
[Picture on page 24]
Unidentified women outside the restaurant where a gunman killed 23 people including himself
Courtesy of Killeen Daily Herald
With my wife, Paula