By Robert Nathan
Killeen Daily Herald
Everything changed one day 15 years ago for the small city next to the largest military installation in the free world. Lives were lost. Families were broken. On that day and afterward, Killeen was linked with one of the worst massacres in American history.
Monday is the 15th anniversary of the Oct. 16, 1991, Luby's massacre when 35-year-old George Hennard drove his truck through a cafeteria window and opened fire on more than 100 people eating lunch. By the time the Belton resident shot himself, he had killed 23 people and wounded more than 20.
Much has changed since that tragic day. The Luby's cafeteria, which re-opened five months after the shootings, closed in September 2000. After extensive exterior and interior renovations, the building now houses Yank Sing Restaurant along bustling U.S. Highway 190.
The city is now building a new image as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
"I think the good news that we had was with the (Killeen-Fort Hood Regional) airport opening," Councilman Fred Latham said. "That story circulated throughout the whole United States and especially Texas. Those kind of positive things kept coming and we have built on them since then."
On the day of the massacre, Killeen was part of newspaper headlines and network newscasts across the country.
"Because it was such a horrific crime, it was the only thing people had to identify with Killeen," said Latham, who was mayor pro tem at the time of the massacre.
"We will always be known for that Luby's shooting, but Killeen is not Luby's, and Luby's is not Killeen," said Rosa Hereford, who was on the Killeen City Council at the time of the massacre. "It's not the best way to be known because I want people to know about Killeen being the city with Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the free world."
Soon after the tragedy, Killeenites, wanting to move forward, urged the Luby's corporate office to keep the cafeteria open.
State Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, who lost both her parents in the massacre, said in previous interviews with the Herald that she called Luby's officials the day after the shooting spree and begged them to keep the cafeteria open so the community wouldn't lose jobs and the restaurant.
Then-Gov. Ann Richards, who visited Killeen after the tragedy, lobbied Luby's chief executive officer to keep the business open.
"It was something that you would never want to happen to you, but I think it made us stronger as a community as to how to respond to these kinds of situations," Latham said.
Former officer Kenneth "Ken" Olson of the Killeen Police Department was the first police officer on the scene that day and says he remembers the day's tragic events.
But like many of those who witnessed the shootings, he, too, has moved on.
"One of the things that I've learned is time heals," Olson said. "As time went on, the incident just faded from the memory. Time heals anything."
Olson said he and his partner were both KPD undercover narcotics agents and were at the maintenance facility off South W.S. Young Drive near the Killeen Rodeo Grounds when they heard about the shooting on their police radio.
Olson said when they arrived at Luby's, Hennard had already shot and killed his victims. Gunsmoke was coming from the shattered windows, he said, and people were trying to escape the cafeteria.
"Honestly, I didn't think much of it. I was just going to clear the call," Olson said. "We got shots-fired calls all the time, so it wasn't anything unusual.
"When I finally got up there, I found out something was really happening," he said.
Olson was not in uniform that day. His plan was to get close to the building and then shoot Hennard.
Olson and other police officers who arrived on the scene exchanged gunfire for 14 minutes with Hennard before Hennard shot himself.
Olson retired from the department in January after 25 years of service. He has moved on emotionally.
So has the city.
On some previous anniversaries of the massacre, memorial services were conducted at the Luby's marker near the Killeen Community Center. An official memorial service has not been planned for the 15th anniversary.
As time progressed and the city grew, many of the survivors and their families privately and quietly remembered Oct. 16, 1991.
Contact Robert Nathan at email@example.com