Three decades later, the horror of the Luby’s massacre is still so visible for those who lived it.
That includes Robert Kelley who was a paramedic with the Killeen Fire Department.
“I was there, but I did nothing. I’ve never been able to shake that,” said Kelley.
In actuality, Kelley did a lot.
“Popped out and went running down to the ditch all hunched over because you could still hear gunshots,” said Kelley.
Kelley was one of the first first responders on scene when reports came in of a mass shooting at Luby’s cafeteria. On Oct. 16, 1991, a gunman shot and killed 23 people and wounded 20 others.
“He had been shot in the chest. It was fatal. I knew it was. But he looked at me right in the eyes and he raised his hand and said, ‘help me,’” said Kelley. “It almost crushed me because the only thing I could do was put him on a board and send him to the triage area.”
When the gunman was finally down, Kelley moved inside.
“The first thing to hit me was the smell. The gunpowder, I could smell that, and I sort of froze for a couple of seconds,” said Kelley. “I just looked at the entire dining room … and went in a circle trying to assess everyone on the floor. Most were dead. And I took the green napkins and covered their faces.”
Twenty-three napkins. Twenty-three dead, including those Kelley saw in their final moments
“I knelt down and this guy was still breathing. I moved his head into a neutral position and tilted his head back. When I did that, he took his last breath. That sort of did it for me,” said Kelley. “I thought it was probably an hour later. Come to find out it was 24 minutes later.”
Until Virginia Tech 16 years later, it was by far the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history.
Despite the enormous loss, the emergency response that day became the stuff of legend, a model for other mass casualty events in the years to come.
Long since retired and now a grandfather, the years since have eased Kelley’s trauma. But he’ll never forget and says he doesn’t want to.