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23 Shot Dead at Texas Cafeteria : Massacre: A gunman drives his pickup through a window and opens fire with a semiautomatic handgun, in nation's worst mass shooting. He is among the dead.

October 17, 1991|LIANNE HART and TRACY WOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

KILLEEN, Tex. — In the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history, a man crashed his pickup truck into a cafeteria crowded with lunchtime patrons here Wednesday afternoon and began firing rapidly and indiscriminately with a semiautomatic pistol, killing 22 people.

The gunman later was found dead of a gunshot wound in a restaurant restroom, police said.

The massacre resulted in injuries to 20 others, many of them listed in "very critical condition." The death toll passed by one the number killed by an out-of-work security guard in a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., seven years ago.

The assailant, a curly-haired man who was wearing dark sunglasses, was identified by authorities as George Jo Hennard, 35, of nearby Belton, Tex. It was not immediately clear whether he was shot by police or if he killed himself or if he was wounded and then committed suicide.

Killeen police late Wednesday merely issued a terse statement, noting that several officers were engaged in a gun battle with Hennard after they "cornered" the man. "Several rounds were fired by the suspect and were returned by the officers," the statement said. "Mr. Hennard is deceased."

John Marr, an assistant manager, told The Times that he was advised by a Texas state trooper that police shot the gunman in the stomach and that he then turned his own gun on himself.

Officials said Hennard was armed with a 9-millimeter Glock 17, described as a lightweight, Austrian-made handgun now in use by many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Marr said a second weapon, described as an empty Luger with the clip out and the firing chamber pulled back, was found on a tray on the serving line.

An autopsy on Hennard's body is scheduled for today at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and police said they hoped that they would then be able to tell exactly how he died.

Some witnesses said Hennard fired up to 100 rounds inside the cafeteria, and Killeen Police Chief F. L. Giacomozzi said that "he wasn't out of bullets when the officers got there."

Officials said the gunman smashed his blue truck through the eight-foot-high, plate-glass front window of Luby's cafeteria, a red-brick, low-slung building just off the highway through this Central Texas town. At the time, the restaurant was unusually crowded with about 150 patrons and employees, including teachers and other workers treating their supervisors to lunch for national Boss's Day.

Sheldon Smith, a cafeteria porter, said the man yelled: "This is what Bell County has done to me!" Another witness heard him swear: "I hope all this is worth it, Texas!"

Vicki Large, a 19-year-old pregnant employee, said that "he was mad," but Giacomozzi, pressed to explain the man's motive, said he knew of "none, whatsoever."

Giacomozzi said the gunman killed 14 women and eight men. None of the dead were employees of the cafeteria.

Witnesses said the gunman's first victim was a man who was shot after he was stuck under the truck. They said the gunman then systematically opened fire throughout the lunchroom.

"As fast as he could pull the trigger, he was shooting people," one witness said. "He was just shooting randomly."

He next headed toward the counter line, and for the next 10 minutes, witnesses said, the gunman would stop firing only long enough to reload. "He had tons of ammo," Sam Wink, another customer, told Cable News Network. "He looked at me and pointed the pistol. I thought I'd bought the farm."

Large, who is expecting her first child in April, saw the truck crash through the window from her vantage point behind the counter, where she was handling the breads and pies.

She said the man started shooting in the air while he was still in the driver's seat of the truck. "I was directly looking at the man," she said. "There he was, just shooting everywhere. When I saw him look at me, I turned around and ran.

"He had a lot of people to shoot because there were a lot of people in there . . . . I was lucky he didn't shoot me."

She ran with 20 back-room employees through the kitchen to a locked set of double doors at the back of the cafeteria. The assistant manager, Marr, rushed over to open the doors. She said Marr "ran back there when we ran back there, and he unlocked it for us and we all ran out. We were all bunched up and all fled in different directions. We were bunched up on my manager (while he unlocked the doors). I'm so glad he hurried up."

Marr, in a telephone interview with The Times, said that his boss, associate manager Mark Copenhofer, told him that during the shooting, the gunman approached victims and asked: "Is it worth it?" or "Was it worth it?" Then he shot them.

Marr said Copenhofer also told him that the gunman told a woman with a child: "You have a child! Run!" The woman ran out with her child, and the gunman then shot the woman next to her, Marr said Copenhofer told him.

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