The man and his weapons were both from out of town. That’s one of the first things many Killeen residents, both past and present, will remind you: He wasn’t one of them. George Hennard was from Pennsylvania, and he was living in Belton, a city about 25 minutes away from Killeen, when he committed what was then the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. On that fateful morning, he stopped for a big breakfast: a sausage-and-biscuit sandwich, a candy bar and doughnuts, all washed down with orange juice. It was Oct. 16, 1991, Boss’s Day.
It would be easy to recap the grisly details of that day, to detail how Hennard, a 35-year-old man recently booted from the Merchant Marine, drove his blue 1987 Ford Ranger pickup through a plate-glass window of one of Killeen’s most popular lunch spots and then opened fire. But this is not only a story about murder, nor is it only a story about the man neighbors called “standoffish” but “friendly,” foreshadowing the cases of often lonely, murderous men who would carry out mass shootings over the years that followed. This is also a story about what comes after, when the cameramen have long since left and the town is left to pick up the pieces. It’s about shadows, about how a day that began with a junk food breakfast casts darkness that shapes lives decades later.
More than 30 years after Hennard killed nearly two dozen men and women, the people of Killeen—and, in some respects, all Texans—are still dealing with the emotional, moral and legal aftermath.