My friend and I were at the Luby's in Killeen when George Hennard crashed his pickup through the window and started shooting. I survived. She didn't.
IT WAS OCTOBER 16, 1991, a beautiful, sunshiny fall day. Kitty Davis and I were meeting about eight friends who worked at the Fort Hood dental clinic for lunch. Kitty and I had recently retired from the clinic. We didn’t get together much, maybe three times a year. One of the girls had gotten an engagement ring, and we were going to visit and look at that and catch up. Kitty and I met in the front of the cafeteria at about eleven-fifteen. The other girls got off work at eleven-thirty, and we wanted to go through the line and get a table for them. I remember that when we got our food, Kitty bowed her head to say a blessing, and I thought to myself, “Well, I never do that. It’s really reverent of her.”
The girls left at about twelve-fifteen, but Kitty and I stayed a little longer to look at pictures of her grandson, who was a baby then. That’s what we were doing when George Hennard’s pickup came through the front window and glass shattered everywhere. My first thought was that it was a runaway car or something like that. The pickup just lumbered up pretty close to our table and stopped. I thought it was probably going to catch on fire and that we needed to get out of there. I got up to run, but Kitty said, “He’s got a gun. Get down.”
At Luby’s they have rollers on their chairs, and I crawled up under a chair—I don’t know how I got under it but I did. It was chaos. From then on we stayed on the floor. I couldn’t see him, but he got out of the pickup and started shooting right away. Bullets went through my foot and Kitty’s finger. I didn’t have my shoes on; I guess I lost them. That bullet went in and came out and just shredded her thumb. I knew I had been shot, but that was the least of my worries. The dishes were flying, cups and saucers off the table. He would make a circle. He kept walking around saying, “This is what they’ve done to me in Belton. Is it really worth it?” And I thought, “Man, this is not Belton. What are you doing here?” Oh, your mind races like ninety miles a minute. We were just about to leave, and I had a $5 bill in my hand and my check was $2.68 or something. I kept thinking, “Well, with this mess, how am I going to get up there and pay?” Then I realized that the place was all shot up and there was no one to pay.
I put my face down, and I was very still. I was hoping to seem like I might be dead. I didn’t holler or make any noise when I got hit in the foot because I just knew it wasn’t the thing to do. It was very quiet in there, eerie quiet. State representative Suzanna Gratia Hupp’s parents were on the other side of a partition; I heard her daddy confront him, and he was shot. So you just didn’t say anything. Then he came around again and shot Kitty in the back about two or three times. She had on a crocheted sweater—she had one of those machines, so I suspect she had made it herself. She said, “I’ve been hit. Pray for me.” And I did. I unhooked her bra and put a napkin there where she was bleeding. I didn’t think she’d die, but her face turned really ashen. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think she would die.
It seemed like a long time before anybody came. He was coming around again when the police came. I didn’t know they were police officers because they were undercover agents and had long hair. That was scary, but a policeman got the opportunity to identify himself. They were exchanging words and shots. I tried to walk, but I couldn’t. I realized quickly that I needed to get back to the floor. They just shot and shot and shot. Then the policeman said it was all over and that the gunman had shot himself.
The policeman picked me up like a baby—it was the best feeling I ever had—and carried me out and put me down on the cement. Another officer put me on a stretcher, and then they brought out Kitty. About that time a helicopter landed. I said, “She’s hurt a lot worse than I am. Could you please put her on the helicopter?”
By then she wasn’t talking; she was just sort of groaning. A paramedic said, “We don’t have any more stretchers right now.” And I said, “Put me down on the driveway and take her.” They placed me on the cement and put Kitty on my stretcher and took her to Darnell hospital. I noticed my knee-high stocking was bunched up and sticking out of the wound in my ankle. I thought I needed to do something for myself while I waited for the ambulance, so I took off my other knee-high and tied it and made me a tourniquet. But I wasn’t bleeding that much.
I got a nurse that I recognized, a man, to call my husband, and he came out there and convinced the doctor that I was well enough to go on to Scott and White, in Temple. When I got there, they said they would have to cut my clothes off. I said, “Well, you can cut my pants off, but don’t you cut my blouse off.” I had on new black pants, and I had made my blouse, which was pieced like a quilt. You just say whatever comes to your mind. They did surgery on my foot that night. Then the next night a beautician brought her stuff over and cleaned the blood out from underneath my fingernails—I don’t know where it came from, really—and gave me a manicure. That was one of the sweetest things that happened to me.
They transferred Kitty to Scott and White; she died three days after the shooting. I remember going to her funeral the next week. I had a lot of support from my church and family, but it was hard. Everything was hard for the next few weeks.
Luby’s had a meeting there after they cleaned up all the blood and the tables and stuff. It was sometime in December; I still had my cast on. My husband was with me. They had counselors to be with you in case you fell apart, and sometimes you did. It took a lot of courage to go in there, I suppose. Then they remodeled it and invited everybody to come back on the first day it reopened. I just couldn’t eat. I remember I was sitting there, doing fine—this was after the first of the year, March maybe—and I just fell apart. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, because we sat with Kitty’s family. The counselors kept saying that you had to talk about it, or it would bother you later in life. I took them at their word, and I talked about it and went back there to eat with friends. I didn’t think it would ever get to where it was normal, but it did.
Everybody has their own way of coping, but you can’t run from it and you can’t put it out of your mind. Right after the shooting, I always sat facing the door to our house because I had this creepy feeling that if we didn’t keep the door locked, someone was going to come in shooting. And I wasn’t sleeping. I had two sisters who took turns sleeping with me until one of them finally said, “Now, Barbara, we can’t keep coming here and sleeping with you for the rest of your life.”
Since then I’ve lost a brother, three sisters, a brother-in-law, and my husband. I’ve tried to reason that I was being prepared for other things. A tragedy like the one at Luby’s does make you more fragile in some ways and stronger in others. You just don’t sweat the small stuff. If you’ve got a grievance against someone, discuss it, and if you love someone, tell them, because life can change in a heartbeat. That’s what I learned.
Barbara Nite, who is 72 years old, has lived in Killeen since 1967.