Gunman demanded, 'Was it worth it?' Mother, child spared in random slaughter

October 17, 1991|By George Kuempel | George Kuempel,Dallas Morning News

KILLEEN, Texas -- Anica McNeill was having lunch with her mother and 4-year-old daughter when a blue pickup smashed through the window in front of her at Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen.

"We were sitting there and the window shattered," she said. "He drove right up to the table."

The driver came out shooting.

One of his first victims was Ms. McNeill's mother, Olgica Taylor. He shot her once, turned away momentarily, then shot her again.

He stood in front of Ms. McNeill, pointed a pistol at her, then stopped.

"You get that baby and get out of here," a shaken Ms. McNeill said the gunman told her. "Run outside and tell everybody Bell County was bad."

She fled with the child.

For hours she tried to learn her mother's fate. Late in the evening she learned that her mother had died of her wounds.

In all, at least 23 people -- including the gunman -- were dead.

At least 23 others were injured.

For surviving witnesses, the scene was frightening and bizarre. When the firing began, Eddie Sanchez, 31, a construction worker, was dropping off Angela Wilson, his girlfriend, who worked at Luby's. He saw the truck crash through a window -- and watched in horror as the shooting began.

"He walked around and shot one man, then he shot another, then he turned around and 'pop!' shot at me," Mr. Sanchez said.

Mr. Sanchez said he and his girlfriend ran through the restaurant, toward the carryout department, where Mr. Sanchez found a telephone. He said he grabbed the telephone and started to call the police, then saw that the gunman was staring at him as he reloaded his pistol.

"He was cold-faced," Mr. Sanchez said of the gunman. "He didn't have no expression. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't mad. He was just cold."

Mr. Sanchez said that after the man emptied his weapon, he stood among the bleeding bodies, looked around and slowly reloaded. To no one in particular, he said, "This is what Belton did to me. Is it worth it? Is it worth it?"

Belton, Texas, population 12,500, is the Bell County seat and about 20 miles east of Killeen.

With the gunman's comments, Mr. Sanchez said, he dropped the telephone and ran with his girlfriend from the restaurant to the auto parts store next door. He said he ran into the auto store yelling, "Some crazy son-of-a-bitch is shooting people at Luby's." Then, remembering that a cousin was still in Luby's, Mr. Sanchez said he asked if anyone had a gun. No one in the auto store did.

Mr. Sanchez said he returned to Luby's in time to witness the man's final confrontation with the police. He said the exchange between the gunman and police was over quickly.

"He fired at them. They fired at him. And he stumbled away and apparently killed himself," Mr. Sanchez said.

Lee Whitney, 41, repair department manager for Contel Telephone Co., said he and his wife, Brenda, 33, were at the rear of Luby's serving line when the truck came through the window. "It was very crowded. It was Boss' Day," he said.

When the shooting started, Mr. Whitney said, he threw his wife to the floor and crouched behind a bench.

As the gunman moved through the room, Mr. Whitney said, he would fire his weapon, then ask: "Was it all worth it, people?" He would fire randomly, Mr. Whitney said, and stop and ask: "Tell me, people, was it all worth it?"

At one point, the gunman neared the spot where the Whitneys were hiding, reached over them and shot a nearby woman in the head. His foot brushed against Brenda Whitney as he fired the shot.

"For some reason, he didn't shoot us," Mr. Whitney said.

When the man walked to the other end of the cafeteria, the Whitneys and about 10 others ran out of a side door.

Shelton Smith, 21, a Luby's porter, said he dropped the load of dishes he was carrying when the shooting started. "He looked down the [serving] line and started shooting," Mr. Smith said.

A man in a military uniform threw a chair through a large window in the back of the restaurant, Mr. Smith said, and many patrons escaped through the broken glass.

"That was a blessing," Mr. Smith said. "He saved a lot of lives."

For Sam Wink, a Killeen resident at Luby's to celebrate Boss' Day, there was a momentary urge to rush the gunman after he emptied his weapon.

"I started to get up," Mr. Wink said, "and then I saw he had tons of ammo, and he fired another clip into his pistol and started shooting again."

Mr. Wink said the gunman "looked right at me and pointed the pistol and I thought, 'Well, this is it.' I thought I had bought the farm. . . . A lady next to me got up and started to run, and he turned and fired at her.

"I moved as fast as I could."

John and Kelly Fitzwater, who live in the Killeen suburb of Harker Heights, had been standing near the breakfast buffet. "I got my wife, and we went to the floor," Mr. Fitzwater said.

He said he saw the gunman's feet pass within an arm's length of him. And he watched as the man walked toward a woman who had caught his attention and fired. Mr. Fitzwater said he felt the cartridge fall on his hand.

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