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Operations

EMS Revisited: October 1991 Luby's Shooting

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Robert L. Kelley is a firefighter/first responder for the Gatesville (TX) Volunteer Fire Department. He worked as a firefighter/paramedic for the Killeen (TX) Fire Department from 1982-97. His article Killeen Diary, which detailed his experiences responding to the October 1991 Luby's shooting, appeared in the March 1992 issue of EMS Magazine. The mass shooting, in which gunman George Hennard killed 23 before shooting himself, was the deadliest in U.S. history before Virginia Tech. Excerpts from his journal entries follow. The material, with minor exceptions, is unedited.

I was applying the second coat of wax to the hood of my car when I heard sirens. Went upstairs for my scanner. I heard dispatch call for an ambulance. Then I heard dispatch call for another ambulance. Dispatch gave the location of Luby's and reported a "multiple shooting." I wiped off the wax and started to Luby's. I felt strange, like something was wrong. The tone of voice of the dispatcher was not right.

While en route, I heard the shooting was still going on in Luby's and the scene wasn't secure. I saw 278 sitting on the side of the road and went to it. Told Mark that I was there to help and got a pair of rubber gloves.

We noticed a man in the ditch with a bloody rag. We wondered if the man was hurt. With shooting still going on, it was too risky to take the ambulance to him. I told Mark to give me the portable and I'd crawl in the ditch to him. When I got to the man, a police officer was there. The man reported he wasn't hurt and that he got the blood on him from a victim inside Luby's.

I saw a woman hiding in the culvert and a man was holding her hand. I asked if both of them were hurt, and the man replied that they weren't. The police officer then went running to Luby's, and I heard the ambulance go by me and pull to a stop under the canopy. I ran toward the unit.

When I got to the unit, Mark was on the radio, calling for all available help and equipment, saying he had a large number of victims. Mark's face was white and then I got shook. I went into Luby's and went numb when I saw the scene.

I went back to the unit and called for more equipment. This had already been done, but for some reason l felt it was the right thing to do. I also had a very hard time reaching dispatch. I later learned that it was because they were so busy they didn't have time to answer.

I reentered Luby's, went to my right and started to check for pulses on the first victim I saw. I checked about four victims before I found a man who was lying on his back, complaining that he had been shot in the back and it felt as though the bullet was around his belly button. He also said he felt like he was bleeding on the inside. He had good respirations and a strong pulse. I advised him that a team would be along to take care of him shortly. I saw no heavy bleeding coming from this man.

I then went to the next victims in line along the front windows. After checking two more victims, I started to cover their faces with green napkins from the tables. I thought it was strange that all of the people I was checking had been shot in the head. I checked two or three more victims before finding another man with a gunshot wound to the right foot. The wound wasn't bleeding, and the man had no other injuries. I advised him to stay still and a team would be along to take care of him.

Sitting on a chair to my left was a woman. I asked her if she had any injuries. She said no and that she just wanted to sit here and be with the man I had just checked. I advised her she really needed care. She then got up and went outside.

I checked a couple of people who were lying on either side of the man with the foot injury. They were both dead and got green napkins.

I then went to a woman who was sitting in a chair by a window in the southeast corner, one table down from the man with the foot injury. I asked her if she was injured. She said she'd been shot in the right hip. She pulled down her pants to show me a small bullet hole with no bleeding. She had no other injuries. I advised her to stay where she was and that a team would be along to take care of her shortly.

I then moved to the center of Luby's and was informed by a police officer that a man was having trouble breathing. He was an older gentleman, and he was rolling from side to side. The man could not breathe. I checked him and found that he had been shot in the chest. His heartbeat was rapid and weak, and his breathing was ragged, shallow and rapid. He was cyanotic and going into shock. He was rapidly losing consciousness. I mentally tagged him "expectant." Although the man couldn't hear me, I told him a team would be here soon to take care of him. I informed an EMS person (I couldn't tell you now who it was) about the man I had just seen and told him the man needed to be taken outside to the triage area.

I then went to two females lying facedown on the floor near the center of Luby's. These two also got green napkins. Captain Whitley and some other people were placing a woman on a backboard. I asked what her injuries were, and a man in a white shirt told me she'd been shot in her right thigh or hip. This person and Captain Whitley had the patient under control, and they removed her to the triage area.

I went to the back of Luby's and found Harker Heights EMS working on a patient, then went to a victim lying next to some latticework. She was lying facedown and had no pulse. She got a green napkin.

In the area of the bathrooms I found a male victim lying on his back. I checked him and found no pulse or respirations. A police officer was standing near this victim and asked if he was dead. I told him yes. The officer told me, "It's a good thing."

I then went toward the front of Luby's and saw the blue pickup for the first time. Lying next to it was a male victim who was obviously dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Going around him, I saw three females lying in the serving-line area. All three were dead.

I went outside to the triage area and tried to help. The man who was shot in the back, who I had checked earlier, was outside. Some EMS people were working on him, and I noticed he had been stripped. I believe Ed Gomez was starting an IV on him. I called for M.A.S.T. and Dean showed up and applied them. This patient was dusted off.

I then went over to the man I'd mentally tagged as "expectant." He was placed behind the ambulance. David and Mark were with him. The patient had died. His daughter was standing at the head of her father and stated that she knew he was dead when he was shot. She also stated that she didn't need any help.

I went toward the front doors and found a patient who was breathing. He had a gunshot wound to the right upper chest. I called for IVs, cervical collar and heart monitor. Before the equipment could arrive, he stopped breathing and had no pulse. An EMS person came up with a heart monitor. A quick look showed an NSR, but no pulse and no respirations. This person was covered.

I reentered Luby's and rechecked all of the victims I'd checked before. I found no one else alive. I then went out front and found Steve, Ken and Carl. I told them we needed to start rounding up all of the people who had gotten out and take them to the Sheraton, where a room had been set up for counseling and help. Steve and I found one woman who was just wandering. She was looking for her friend, Mary. We took her to the vehicle she described and found Mary, who was sitting in the front seat, smoking. I left Steve with both and went to find a vehicle we could use for transport. 276 wasn't being used, and both women were placed in it.

Two other women with minor injuries were found and placed in 276. An elderly woman with minor injuries was found and placed in 276. An elderly woman with chest pain was also brought to Tl6. I was informed of a woman in the HiLo Auto Parts store office who may require attention. I went to the store and found the woman sitting in the office. When I talked to her, she stated that she was in Luby's waiting for her husband to come pick her up. She was visibly shaken and in need of someone to talk to. I informed her of the Sheraton and asked if she wanted to go. I also told her the police would need to talk to her. She was worried that her husband would come and not find her. I asked store employees if they'd send her husband to the Sheraton if he showed up. After obtaining their promise, the woman agreed to go. A female from the store offered to go with us. Going out of the store, I told her there were people at the Sheraton she could talk to, and she said she needed to talk to somebody. But when we got to the corner and saw Luby's, she broke down and cried, refusing to go any further. I held her and told her it was all over. She asked me if the guy who did the shooting was dead. I told her yes and promised her that I wouldn't let anything happen to her.

I then went back to the command post. I remember just hanging around. A large refrigerator truck came and backed up to the door. Captain Whitley informed me that some of us were going to be needed to take out the bodies. I went down to the back door. I remember seeing the camera around the neck of one of our new people. I told him to get rid of the camera. He told me he wasn't going to take any pictures and smiled. I then told him to lose the camera, that this wasn't a circus.

Shortly after, Captain Whitley asked me if I was all right and suggested that I go and talk to someone. Lt. Chappell and I went to the Sheraton and I talked with a couple of ministers from the army. I then went back to the command post and found Captain Whitley. He asked me if I was all right, and I told him I'd do anything he wanted but I didn't want to go back into Luby's. He told me to go to Central and take a break.

When I first went into Luby's, I felt like I'd been hit with a bat. I went numb. I was unprepared for the scene before me. I had seen Mark working on a patient; after that, I saw people in blue uniforms, but I cannot tell who they were. I remember only Captain Whitley. I missed a lot of details on the first trip. On the second trip, I noted a lot more, like two women lying near the center. They were so young. I found myself wondering what it was like during the shooting. What were these people thinking? What were they doing? Did they feel anything as they died?

It was so senseless. I pictured him going around shooting and wondered about the fear these people must have felt. I looked at the man who was lying near the pickup. He was shot so many times.

I wondered about the people as they sat there eating when the truck came crashing through the window. I cannot imagine. I wondered about the people who crawled under the tables, only to have him reach under and shoot them. I wondered about the old man and whether I did the right thing.

I didn't sleep very well that night. I had a dream while on duty the next day. A large hand with a finger pointed at me. It was shaking, as though I had done something bad. I remember anger at this because it didn't have to happen. I wonder, why? Now, the memories come and go. Like Vietnam, they will never go away.

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