Law enforcement personnel from across Bell County gather each year for Peace Officers Memorial Day, set aside in mid-May to honor all law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.
This year, the Killeen Police Department dedicated a memorial to town marshal John T. Blair, who was killed in 1917 while intervening in a dispute.
At the time of KPD’s May 15 ceremony, Blair was the only lawman killed in action in the city’s 131-year history. Now, just two months later, the community is coping with the loss of Robert Hornsby, a 32-year-old KPD officer who was killed in last weekend’s shootout at a Killeen apartment complex. The late-night gunbattle also claimed the life of the shooter — a Fort Hood soldier — and left another KPD officer wounded.
Known to many of his friends and co-workers as “Bobby,” Hornsby was described as dedicated and cheerful. He had been on the Killeen police force for four years and a member of the SWAT team for the past eight months. Hornsby’s tragic death leaves a void in the lives of his wife and two small children, as well as those with whom he served on the Killeen police force. But the slain officer’s loss is felt acutely in our community as a whole, as it is in Temple, where he attended high school.
Area residents paid a poignant tribute to the fallen officer last Sunday when they lined an Interstate 35 overpass, waving American flags to watch as law enforcement officials escorted his body back to Killeen following an autopsy in Dallas.
And the outpouring of support continues. After just one day, a special account set up for the Hornsby family collected more than $26,000 from 372 people, eclipsing the target goal of $25,000. As of 5 p.m. Friday, the fund had grown to nearly $45,000.
Area residents also responded in person, as two public services for the fallen officer drew large crowds to the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. Hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects at a visitation Wednesday. And on Thursday, more than 1,000 people — including hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the state — filled the conference center to honor Hornsby at his funeral service.
Once again, a stunned community has rallied to support those who are hurting in the aftermath of a tragedy — as it did after the Luby’s massacre in 1991 and again following the Fort Hood shooting four years ago.
But as with those previous tragic shootings, difficult questions remain.
For example, the soldier who precipitated last weekend’s shootout had served two tours in Afghanistan, returning from his most recent deployment in February. Is it possible that post-traumatic stress disorder was the root cause of his violent actions? And if so, did anyone note a change in his behavior prior to the shooting?
It was also noted that the soldier — a resident of the apartment complex — had been drinking for several hours before he brandished a rifle to threaten people who were using the apartment complex’s pool area, drawing the police response. Could it be that heavy alcohol consumption — and PTSD — triggered his angry outburst?
Also, police reports indicate the gunman’s weapon was an AK-47, a high-powered weapon that is illegal to own in a fully automatic configuration, though the shooter’s weapon was the legal, semiautomatic style. Who knew he had it in his residence?
Obviously, the confluence of these factors is bound to stir discussions about PTSD, alcohol abuse and gun control. But in hindsight, it’s difficult to say whether last weekend’s shootout could have been averted. Undoubtedly, KPD officials will carefully review the sequence of events and evaluate whether anything should have been done differently on the part of SWAT team personnel.
Similarly, military officials can be expected to conduct a thorough analysis to determine what factors contributed to the gunman’s actions. Whether PTSD is to blame in this case, the Army and Fort Hood will no doubt redouble their efforts to identify those who may be suffering from it and provide whatever treatment is warranted.
Ultimately, the shooting death of one of our community’s police officers serves as a reminder of the dangers law enforcement personnel face on a daily basis.
Sadly, 11 officers died in Texas in 2012, and 120 were killed nationwide. Five police officers have lost their lives in Texas this year, as have 54 officers across the nation. Of course, Hornsby was more than just one of the officers included in this somber tally. He was one of our own.
And while building a memorial in his honor would be a fitting tribute at some time in the future, it could never replace the officer so many knew and loved.