Before Vegas and Orlando, there was Luby’s Cafeteria

The entire restaurant was eerily silent, except for the pop-pop-pop of George Hennard’s guns and his profane ranting. Frightened diners hid the best they could, sometimes protected by nothing more than the hands covering their heads, hoping not to attract the killer’s attention. Paralyzed by fear. Waiting quietly to die.

—from DELIVERED FROM EVIL (2011) by Ron Franscell

It was the deadliest public shooting of its time. On Oct. 16, 1991, George Hennard plowed his blue, 1987 Ford Ranger pickup through the plate-glass window of a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen TX. Over the next 12 minutes, he killed 23 people—two more than the previous most deadly massacre, James Huberty‘s McDonald’s restaurant rampage in San Ysidro, CA, seven years before.

Hennard’s mug shot from an earlier pot bust

Hennard was an unfinished soul, the product of an abusive childhood and an angry, disappointing, turbulent adulthood. It was a combustible mix. He exploded in October 1991.

Now his story, and the story of that deadly day, are being told again. I am among the commentators who appear in “The Fisher King,” the newest episode of the Reelz Channel‘s Copycat Killers series at 10pm Eastern/9pm Central this Saturday, December 9. Check your TV provider’s listings. 

Today, one of his surviving victims told me she never mentions George Hennard’s name, denying him the notoriety that even a single whispered breath grants. He is just “the gunman” or “the killer,” her way of reducing him to the pathetic, unfinished, nameless soul that he will always be to her.

True-crime TV and crime writers can’t afford such principled omissionsas much as we’d like tobut I hope that by retelling this important story in the bloody history of American mass murder we can find answers that will someday thwart such horror.