I survived America’s sixth deadliest mass shooting – and I wish I’d had my gun with me so I could have saved my parents

A SURVIVOR of one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history believes looser gun control laws are the key to preventing tragedies like the Uvalde elementary school shooting – not tighter restrictions.

Suzanna Gratia Hupp, now 62, is a survivor of 1991’s Luby’s Cafeteria massacre in Killeen, Texas, which claimed the lives of 23 people -including both of her parents.

Suzanna Gratia Hupp, 62, survived the Luby's massacre of October 1991

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Suzanna Gratia Hupp, 62, survived the Luby’s massacre of October 1991Credit: Facebook/Suzanna Hupp
The shooting, the deadliest of its kind in the US at the time, killed 23 and left 20 hurt

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The shooting, the deadliest of its kind in the US at the time, killed 23 and left 20 hurtCredit: AP
Among the victims were Suzanna's dad Al, 71, and mom, Ursula, 67

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Among the victims were Suzanna’s dad Al, 71, and mom, Ursula, 67Credit: Courtesy Suzanna Hupp

The strong defense of her gun rights comes despite most Americans supporting increased background checks on firearms.

Thousands marched in Washington DC on Saturday, June 11, 2022, to demand Congress enact gun control legislation.

Suzanna had finished lunch with her parents at Luby’s Cafeteria on October 16, 1991, when a gunman crashed his truck through a restaurant window and opened fire.

Across a period of 12 horrifying minutes, 35-year-old former Merchant Marine George Hennard would claim the lives of 23 people and injure 20 more.

The gunman, who was unemployed and described as a “recluse,” circled the restaurant carrying two 9mm handguns and executed most of his victims at close range.

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As Hennard ominously prowled toward Suzanna and her parents, she instinctively reached for her purse, where she had kept a handgun.

But when Suzanna opened her bag, she found it empty.

The gun, she remembered, was under her car’s front seat.

She had stopped carrying it three months earlier because concealed carry wasn’t legal in Texas at the time, and she was worried about getting in trouble.

“I started obeying the law,” Suzanna told The US Sun more than 30 years later.

“Like a dutiful idiot.”

While Suzanna miraculously escaped with her life, her parents, Al and Ursula Gratia were not so fortunate.

“I made a really bad call by leaving my gun in my car that day,” she said.

“The only thing the gun laws did that day was prevent me and a number of other people in that restaurant from being able to protect ourselves and others.”

TWELVE MINUTES OF HORROR

On the morning of October 16, 1991, Suzanna had been at work when she received a phone call from her friend Mark, a manager at Luby’s, who invited her to stop by for lunch later that day.

Insisting she was too busy with clients to even think about eating, Suzanna politely declined the invite.

But 30 minutes later, her parents, who had just finished a morning round of golf, stopped by her office and insisted on taking her out.

As a trio, they decided to take Mark up on his offer and arranged to meet at Luby’s before midday.

Suzanna and her family were regulars at the restaurant, but when they arrived, they found it uncharacteristically packed.

It was Bosses Day, they would soon discover, and the day after payday.

With their regular seat occupied by other diners, Suzanna and her parents reluctantly chose a table on a side wall and sat down with Mark to eat.

That’s when he started in our direction, very slowly, very deliberately, almost execution-style. There was no hurry, he wasn’t spraying bullets – he was using a handgun.

Suzanna Hupp

They had been sipping coffee and picking over the remnants of their desserts when a blue pick-up truck came crashing through one of the restaurant’s windows at 12.39pm local time.

“The table where we usually sat had been knocked over by the truck along with a number of others,” Suzanna remembered.

“People and utensils just went flying around the room and then the truck came to a rest probably around 15 feet from me.”

Believing a terrible accident had just unfolded before them, Suzanna and her parents got up to help a group of fellow diners lying lifelessly on the floor.

Then they heard gunshots.

“We thought it was an accident, to begin with, but we heard gunshots, and my father and I immediately got down on the floor and put the table up in front of us,” she said.

“And my mom was down behind us.”

“This was 1991, so this stuff, these mass shootings, weren’t happening back then, so my first thought was this is a robbery.

“We were waiting for the guy to say something like, ‘put your wallets on the table’ or something like that, but he didn’t – he just kept shooting.”

The gunshots were thundering out from the other side of the restaurant.

Suzanna, her mom, and her dad had not yet caught a glimpse of Hennard.

Numerous other scenarios then began racing through Suzanna’s mind.

Was this a disgruntled employee enacting revenge on his boss in front of his colleagues? Could this be an elaborate mobster hit, the kind she had seen on TV?

But as the gunfire continued, it was only then that Suzanna saw the gunman walk over to a diner, stare him in the eyes, and then pull the trigger at close range that she realized his intentions were: to kill as many people as possible.

“I saw him come around the front of his truck and by this point, almost everyone was down on the ground and he was up, walked around.

“And I saw him take a look at some customer on the ground, then he took aim and just pulled the trigger.

“Then he walked to the next one, took aim, and pulled the trigger. 

“That’s when I realized, ‘Holy crap, he’s just here to kill people,'” she continued.

“That wasn’t something I even thought was possible at the time.”

A SITTING DUCK

Suzanna watched in horror, peering from behind the table as she observed Hennard prowling the dining room very slowly, picking off his prey one by one “executioner-style.”

“There was no hurry, he wasn’t spraying bullets – he was using a handgun,” Suzanna said.

“But that’s when he started in our direction, very slowly.”

While terrified, Suzanna said she felt at that moment that she could get a clean shot off at Hennard.

She reached for her handbag in search of her gun, hoping to bring his sickening rampage to an abrupt end.

“That’s when I remembered I’d made the stupidest mistake of my life a few months earlier,” Suzanna said of the moment she looked down into her handbag, realizing her gun was no longer inside of it.

“My gun was actually 100 feet away, inside my car, completely useless to me.”

Across a period of twelve horrifying minutes, 35-year-old former merchant marine George Hennard would claim the lives of 23 people

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Across a period of twelve horrifying minutes, 35-year-old former merchant marine George Hennard would claim the lives of 23 peopleCredit: AP
Suzanna stopped secretly carrying a pistol just months before the shooting

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Suzanna stopped secretly carrying a pistol just months before the shootingCredit: AP:Associated Press
The scene outside of Luby's after Hannard was killed is seen above

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The scene outside of Luby’s after Hannard was killed is seen aboveCredit: AP

Realizing she was unarmed, and with Hennard edging ever closer, Suzanna began looking for things on the ground to use as a weapon.

Finding only salt shakers and butter knives, Suzanna realized she was helpless, a sitting duck waiting to be picked off.

That’s when her father, Al, a 71-year-old World War II veteran, decided to act.

He turned to his daughter and told her, “I’ve gotta do something, he’s gonna kill everybody in here.”

Against Suzanna’s hushed cries for him to stay put, Al attempted to rush Hannard when the assailant turned his back, but the gunman quickly spotted him and fired a single shot into Al’s chest.

Suzanna’s father dropped in the aisle in front of her.

He was still alive and conscious, though the severity of his wound left Suzanna resigned to the fact her father would likely not survive.

But his heroics were not entirely in vain.

The position in which he landed, Suzanna says, blocked the gunman’s path to where she and her mother were hiding, forcing Hannard off in the opposite direction.

“That was the first time I actually got a real look at the guy,” Suzanna said.

“And all these stupid thoughts were going through my head.”

She continued: “He was a nice-looking, well-built guy and well-dressed.

“I mean, you know jeans, and a polo shirt and this nice new truck.

“And I’m thinking what on earth could possibly be so wrong in this guy’s life that he could want to do something so horrific?”

RELIEF TO HEARTBREAK

As Suzanna and her mother huddled together behind a table on the other side of the restaurant, Tommy Vaughn, a 28-year-old heavy-set mechanic, hurled himself out of one of the restaurant’s many floor-to-ceiling windows.

He risked his well-being to create an escape route through which others trapped inside could flee.

Hearing the commotion, Suzanna peered over to the shattered window, grabbed her mother by the collar, and told her, “Come on, we’ve got to get out of her.”

“And my feet grew wings,” she said.

“I just ran through the restaurant and kind of stumbled out that back window. And as I did, Mark came out of a side door in the kitchen, saying ‘Thank god you’re OK.'”

She continued: “I said yeah, but told him that my dad had been hit and it was bad.

“I then turned to say something to my mom and realized she hadn’t followed me out.”

By this point, the gunfire inside Luby’s had grown more frequent and random as Hennard seemingly panicked with swaths of terrified diners making a break for safety.

Suzanna was unable to go back inside to retrieve her mom.

There was also no sign of Ursula among patrons emerging from Vaughn’s make-shift fire exit.

She was taken to a hotel across the road for shelter while police, who had been at a conference at the hotel when the shooting started, finally arrived on the scene.

An officer told Suzanna that, as they peered through one of the windows, they saw a woman on her knees on the ground in an aisle of the dining room, cradling a mortally wounded man.

“They said they saw this tall man walk over to her, she looked up at him, put her head down, and he pulled the trigger,” Suzanna said.

“They said that’s how they knew who the gunman was.

“And that of course was my mom cradling my father.”

She continued: “They have just had their 47th wedding anniversary.

“And it didn’t occur to me at the time, but as I was running, I didn’t realize that she clearly wasn’t going anywhere without my dad.”

CAMPAIGNING FOR CHANGE

Al, 71, and Ursula, 67, were tragically among 23 people who lost their lives in Luby’s Cafeteria on that fateful day almost 31 years ago.

Today, the shooting is the sixth deadliest in United States history and the second most deadly in Texas.

Suzanna’s father was the oldest victim of the massacre; the youngest was 30.

Hennard, who executed the massacre a day after his 35th birthday, claimed his own life with his last bullet in the women’s bathroom after a brief shootout with police.

The reason why Hennard chose that particular restaurant to carry out his murderous rage, 19 miles away from his hometown of Belton, Texas, is still unknown three decades later.

But it’s not the why’s of that tragic day that continues to haunt Suzanna; it’s the what-ifs.

Specifically: what if she had her gun in her purse that day instead of leaving it in her car, as the law at that time required?

Unidentified mourners comfort each other after a funeral service for Michael Griffith at Grace United Methodist Church in Copperas Cove, Texas

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Unidentified mourners comfort each other after a funeral service for Michael Griffith at Grace United Methodist Church in Copperas Cove, TexasCredit: AP
The front entrance to Luby's Cafeteria is seen lined with flowers and cards

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The front entrance to Luby’s Cafeteria is seen lined with flowers and cardsCredit: Getty
A worker mops the porch of the Luby's Cafeteria a day after the shooting

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A worker mops the porch of the Luby’s Cafeteria a day after the shootingCredit: AP
Al was shot dead attempting to rush the gunman, and Ursula died cradling him in her arms

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Al was shot dead attempting to rush the gunman, and Ursula died cradling him in her armsCredit: Getty

Channeling her anger and heartbreak into activism the day after the shooting, Suzanna spoke to local media.

She scathed that legislators had prevented her from protecting herself and her family by not legally permitting concealed carry in Texas at the time.

A few years later, Suzanna ran for the Texas State House of Representatives and was elected in 1996.

Shortly after, the state’s then-governor, former President George W Bush, signed a law permitting concealed carry across Texas.

THE CASE FOR GUN LAWS

Advocates of stronger gun laws insist that common-sense reforms can reduce the number of mass shootings and gun violence.

In the years after the Luby’s massacre, mass shootings have become commonplace across the US, with gun violence reaching an all-time high in 2021.

In 2022, there have been at least 246 mass shootings through June 5 – the same number the country saw through June 5 last year.

Of those 246 shootings, 27 have taken place in schools, including a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead on May 24.

A total of 278 people have died in mass shootings this year, and over 1,357 people have been hurt.

Should the troubling trend continue, 2022 could match or exceed last year’s record-breaking total of 692 mass shootings.

Congress banned the sale of semiautomatic military-style weapons in 1994, but the ban expired ten years later and has never been replaced.

The weapons covered in the ban accounted for 30 percent of the shootings since 1999, the New York Times reports.

A Times analysis found that if the proposed gun laws by Congress had been in regulation over the last 23 years, they would have affected 35 mass shootings that killed 446 people.

Four gunmen under 21 would not have been legally able to buy a weapon, while four would have been subject to a background check.

Some 20 killers, who killed an average of 16 people each, would not have been allowed to upgrade their guns with high-capacity magazines.

Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis, told the Times: “There’s no such thing as a perfect, 100 percent effective policy or suite of policies, but there is a chance to make a real difference.”

The majority of Americans support further background checks for gun owners.

A University of Texas at Austin poll in 2021 found 43 percent of Texans support stronger gun laws, while just 16 percent want looser gun laws, the Tribune reports.

‘LEVELING THE ODDS’

With debates over gun control and gun reform inevitably spilling out in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Suzanna said she believes that more relaxed gun laws will be more effective in helping to deter similar horrific acts from taking place in the future.

Suzanna said stricter gun laws would not have prevented Hennard from carrying out a massacre inside Luby’s in October 1991.

Anyone who believes it would, Suzanna says, “lacks imagination.”

“Would it have prevented this guy if you could simply make all the guns disappear?

“Would it have prevented him from killing everybody with guns? Sure.

“But would it have stopped him driving into the restaurant and killing everyone that way?

“Would it have stopped him from making a bomb and blowing everyone to kingdom come? No, it wouldn’t.”

Insisting some individuals like Hennard are hellbent on murdering, no matter the method, Suzanna believes having ready access to guns in situations like the Luby’s shooting will “level the odds” or prevent them from happening altogether.

“I’ve had a lot of people say to me over the years, that even if I did have a gun, I could’ve missed or it could’ve jammed, but I almost don’t know how to respond to that, because it just sounds so stupid.

“The one thing you can’t argue with is that it would’ve leveled the odds.

“I can’t begin to tell you how awful it is to be in a position where you’re just waiting for it to be your turn, that you don’t have a fighting chance because that salt shaker or that butter knife isn’t gonna cut it.

“Well, I want a fighting chance. I might lose, but I want a fighting chance.”

GUNS: ‘A VALUABLE TOOL IN THE RIGHT HANDS’

Suzanna didn’t grow up in a “gun-loving family,” nor is she a particular fan of guns herself.

But her dad Al, she says, was an expert on the country’s founding, so she has always held a fond appreciation for the Second Amendment.

Guns to Suzanna are just a “hunk of metal.”

They’re nothing to fawn over or obsess about, but she says she views them as a tool akin to a chainsaw or power drill.

Officials investigate the shooting scene at Luby's Cafeteria on October 17, 1991

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Officials investigate the shooting scene at Luby’s Cafeteria on October 17, 1991Credit: AP
Bodies are seen being removed from the restaurant into awaiting hearses

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Bodies are seen being removed from the restaurant into awaiting hearsesCredit: AP
Suzanna sees guns as valuable tools in the right hands

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Suzanna sees guns as valuable tools in the right handsCredit: Facebook/Suzanna Hupp

“Look, I don’t want chainsaws, they make me nervous as hell. But I’ve recognized them as a very valuable tool in the right hands.

“So when I think of that day at Luby’s, I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids.

“And the idea of being in that same position but having children with me, as that gunmen, or as that maniac holds his weapon to your child’s head … even if you’ve chosen not to carry a weapon, don’t you hope to God that the guy behind you has one and knows how to use it?”

“A gun is a hunk of metal,” Suzanna adds.

“It’s a tool that can be used to kill a family; it’s a tool that can be used to protect the family.

“It’s not a guarantee but it just changes the odds.”

‘GUNLESS ZONES ARE TARGETS’

Last year, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott signed a constitutional carry bill into law, permitting Texans to carry handguns without a license or training.

It was a bill Suzanna had advocated for some 15 years earlier.

The former lawmaker is also urging officials to extend the state’s conceal carry laws into classrooms, believing the potential presence of guns on campus in Texas and beyond may deter aspiring mass shooters from targeting classrooms.

“Specifically concerning schools, I filed a bill for this years ago as my sister was a school teacher and I always worried about her.

“So my sister could walk around in a Target or a grocery store across the street with a gun, and they can walk around people pushing strollers and walking with their children at their heels.

“And we say, ‘oh Miss Teacher, we trust you at the grocery store with a gun,’ but for some reason, we say as soon as that teacher crosses the road into the school, we don’t trust her [with a gun] anymore.

“There’s no logic to that – particularly when we know the schools have become a target.”

ACTION NEEDED

Suzanna assures that she isn’t advocating arming all teachers, but suggests should an educator wish to take on the added responsibility and go through all the extra training, “we shouldn’t strip a person of the right to protect themselves as long as it’s the last resort.”

Additionally, while calling it a “shame,” Suzanna believes schools need to better fortify themselves against attackers by installing bulletproof glass on classroom windows and automatic door locks.

Thirdly, where “red flag laws” are concerned, Suzanna believes law enforcement should introduce comprehensive threat assessment checks for any gun owner exhibiting concerning behavior.

“My husband is a forensic neuropsychologist and he deals with these groups all the time and he laughs whenever somebody brings up mandating risk assessments.

“A risk assessment takes ten to 15 minutes and it’s a checkbox – it’s completely worthless.”

Suzanna added: “However, a threat assessment is a much more in-depth evaluation by a professional and takes a couple of hours.

“And he says that’s where you can nab these guys and actually have control over them.”

She continued: “If they’re deemed to be a threat, you can actually go in and strip them of their ability to have a gun for a period of time ’til they’ve been adjudicated.

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“This needs to be a standard protocol for cops as opposed to a risk assessment.

“My husband’s convinced that they would stop about 80 to 90 percent of these mass shootings before they ever happened.”

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5535641/lubys-massacre-mass-shooting-survivor-gun-laws/ I survived America’s sixth deadliest mass shooting – and I wish I’d had my gun with me so I could have saved my parents

DevanCole

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