Bud Kennedy

1991: A cafeteria shooting killed 23, and pastors tried to answer, “Why?”

Officials remove bodies from Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen on Oct. 16, 1991.
Officials remove bodies from Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen on Oct. 16, 1991. Associated Press

This Sunday morning, a few men and women hold the pain of Central Texas gently in their hands.

An hour’s drive from Baylor University's spire, churches all over Killeen and Belton will report attendance today as “up.”

Pastors will be expected to give an answer no human knows: Why would George Hennard Jr. kill 23 of us, and leave 27 more hurting?

In growing Central Texas, houses of worship still shoulder the weight of a city's grief. This weekend, leaders of all faiths will spend extra time choosing the right words.

Their sermons will talk about higher powers. Faith. Love.

Probably not about dysfunctional families with overbearing mothers. Or the Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol. Or those movie scenes from “The Fisher King.”

By phone, a few pastors shared their thoughts.

They are braced for a tough Sunday morning, after a gut-wrenching four days.

“We lost one from our church, but the impact is much, much larger,” said the Rev. Andy Davis of the First Baptist Church of Belton, preparing yesterday's funeral for Juanita Williams, 64.

“So many people are calling. We've met more people in a few days than in the last several months.”

First Baptist and Belton's other downtown churches are less than two miles from Hennard's home, Davis said.

“That's a question we all wonder about,” he said.

“We're so close. Was there anything we could have done?”

In Killeen, the Rev. Lanny Geib of St. Christopher's Episcopal had to tell nine families a relative was dead, including a parishioner's mother and father.

“I won't even use copy on Sunday,” he said.

“You don't give a sermon on a day like this. You listen.”

Geib said five churches lost members to Hennard's gunfire. The city's biggest church, First Baptist, lost three.

The irony: For Operation Desert Storm, First Baptist of Killeen sent 120 members to fight a war in the Persian Gulf.

All 120 soldiers came home safely. But then three church members get killed over lunch.

The most difficult challenge may belong to the Rev. N.H. Kupferle Jr. of Fort Worth, a United Methodist minister now serving as a vice president of the Harris Methodist hospitals.

On a day of grief and faith, he's visiting First United Methodist of Belton — to launch a money drive.

“I can't change the whole sermon,” he said Friday. His title: “Perspective — The Key to Life.”

He said it’s about the continuity of life: “But I can say that we also see the continuity of life for our loved ones, taken from us cruelly by a ruthless imbecile.

“Death cannot separate us from those we love.”

Kupferle will say that. In every place of worship, leaders will say that.

Weeks from now, maybe months, their followers will be able to hear it.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.