As long as I live, I will never forgot the horror I felt on the morning of October 17, 1991, reading the Boston Herald on the Route 39 bus on my way to high school and finding out about the malevolent mayhem of a killer in Killeen, Texas:
A man smashed a pickup truck into a busy restaurant at lunchtime here today, stepped out of the cab, shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20 others.
As blood-drenched patrons and employees tried to scramble to safety, dozens of police officers arrived and exchanged gunfire with the man, apparently wounding him. He then shot and killed himself with a bullet through the left eye, witnesses said.
The 23 deaths make the attack the worst mass shooting ever to occur in the United States. The police said the killer, a 35-year-old man, reloaded and emptied his Glock-17, a semiautomatic .9 millimeter pistol, several times.
About 80 people were in the restaurant, many of them taking a break from work with their superiors on National Boss’s Day.
Tonight the police identified the killer as George Jo Hennard of Belton, which is about 10 miles east of this Central Texas town. They declined to provide any more information about him.
“He was firing at anyone he could shoot,” Sam Wink, a Killeen resident, said in a television interview. Mr. Wink said he was in the restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria, at the time of the shooting and saw the pickup plow through the window. The gunman “had tons of ammo on him,” Mr. Wink said.
He said the gunman noticed him on the floor and pointed his pistol at him. “I thought I bought the farm,” Mr. Wink said, adding that he was saved when a woman got up to run and the gunman fired at her instead.
Another witness described the gunman shooting “as fast as he could pull the trigger.”
The Killeen, Texas massacre sickened me like no news story ever had before. Prior to reading about the incident, I was your typical teenager who dreamed of becoming an adult, marrying one of the girls I had a crush on, and having lots of children; I remember wanting to have at least ten kids, five boys and five girls each. After reading about Killeen, I suddenly lost all interest in having children; I concluded that this world was far too violent, far too reckless, far too insane, far too gun-crazed to bring innocent children into it. I could not fathom the idea of becoming a father and then having to endure the process of burying my child because some crazy, heavily armed nut had decided to shoot up some place where my child was eating or playing. I’d go crazy.
The classmates I had crushes on in the fall of 1991 are all mothers now. I can’t imagine how they do it. I can’t imagine the silent stress they must go through when they read about these horrible mass shootings and wonder if it will be their child one day. I don’t know how they make it through the days, weeks, months, years dealing with that kind of anxiety. They are far, far stronger than I am. Yet their strength should not be necessary. It should not be this way in America.
There’s another strong woman out there, a woman who demonstrated uncommon valor in the face of savage gun violence. Let us never forget her grace and strength.
(NEXT: A real American hero.)
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