More than 40 years ago San Antonio suffered one of its darkest
days when a deranged lone sniper took aim at hundreds of innocent spectators
during the Battle of Flowers Parade.
For me, the day began innocently enough. I was in my car at the
corner of Bandera Road and Loop 410 eating a hamburger when I got a call on my
car phone from my KKYX news director, Joe Simpson. Joe didn't call me often
but this time I noticed a certain urgency in his voice.
"Are you at the Fiesta parade?" he asked.
I replied "No." "I didn't think there was much going on there, so
I skipped it" I explained.
"Well get down there right away. Shots have been fired."
I didn't need any further explanation, so I gobbled down the rest
of my burger and drove down to the Battle of Flowers Parade as fast as my car
would take me.
As I approached the downtown area, I could see that a lot of
streets near the parade route were barricaded. At one such intersection I saw
a couple of uniformed cops standing by their barricade and wondered whether it
was part of the normal street closure or part of a police lockdown.
"What's going on?" I shouted from my car window.
They looked at the KKYX plates on my car then they looked at me.
They seemed puzzled by my question. I then concluded they hadn't heard
anything about any sort of shooting. I then wisely decided that I wouldn't be
the one to blurt anything out about the shooting.
Via my car radio telephone, Joe directed me to the beginning of
the parade on Broadway. He still wasn't sure of what was going on, but we both
knew it was going to be big.
I arrived near the old Pearl Brewery and discovered that due to
the crowds I could get no closer. I ditched my car along a side street and
grabbed my essential recording gear. I hustled my way to the actual parade
route where I cut my way through the four-deep crowd and emerged onto the bare
street. The revelers had absolutely no idea of any trouble. They were just
waiting for the parade to begin.
Amid a chorus of catcalls and jeers, I started jogging up the middle of Broadway towards the eye of the storm.
"Hey man, slow down. Take it easy." They laughed. "What's your hurry?" They yelled. "You're going the wrong way."
Had they known the true situation, I'm convinced there would have been sheer pandemonium. No doubt there would have been mass scrambling to escape. I, on the other hand, was running towards the shooting.
History will record that on that day, April 27, 1979, 64 year old Ira Attebury would take a sniper position in a motor-home parked at the corner of Broadway and Grayson. Neighbors would later describe him as a strange recluse who would often complain of harassment and mistreatment.
Over the course of an hour or so on that Friday afternoon,
Atteberry would take random shots at innocent men, women and children. In
those frightening minutes, there would be acts of heroism and bravery by the
police that are still recounted to this day in the Alamo City.
There would also be odd coincidences and circumstances that no
doubt lessened the impact of that horrible day. For example, Police Chief Emil
Peters, dressed in his ceremonial uniform, happened to be nearby when the
first shots rang out. He was among the city officials scheduled to actually
lead the parade. And by coincidence, a radio colleague from WOAI just happened
to be leaning up against the motor-home itself when the gunman unleashed his
barrage. As I remember, she took cover under the vehicle as police traded
shots with the sniper. She had unwillingly become part of the story.
Fortunately, she escaped unharmed.
About a block from the shooting site, I took cover behind a bank
building. I wasn't alone, however. I was next to a cop armed with just his
service revolver. I didn't dare peer around the corner of the building myself
because, like a lot of other people, I didn't know where the shots were
actually coming from. The cop I was standing next to was another story. He
had his gun drawn as he carefully peeked around the building and then looked
back at me. "I'm going in!" I remember him telling me several times. I was
absolutely terrified at the thought of what might happen next. But thankfully,
he never advanced any further and eventually abandoned the idea of storming
the motor home alone.
The bank unlocked their doors and kindly let me use their phone
so that I could call the station and report what I did know. They put me on
the air live as I described the tense and dangerous scene near the parade
head. If parade goers hadn't known what was going on, they certainly knew by
now as the local news outlets organized their coverage. I called the station a
second time and this time they patched me into the Texas State Network. Again,
I went live on the air to our network radio affiliates. I secretly hoped that
my parents in Houston would not panic if they heard my on-the-scene reports.
After many tense minutes, the all clear was finally given. Police
had managed to neutralize the shooter and secure the scene. I didn't dare get
any closer to the shooting scene, but about a block away I saw Chief Peters
walking with his top brass. Since I was a police reporter, I recognized the
Chief immediately. Many of the TV guys were not as lucky. I pulled the chief
to the side and began my questions. Once the camera crowd realized who I was
talking to, a sea of microphones popped up as he summarized the police
By the end of the day the death toll from the rampage would be 3
with more than 50 others injured. Two female victims were killed for no reason
other than because they were within easy range of the sniper. The third death
was the gunman himself. Police found him dead alongside a small arsenal of
weapons when they finally stormed the motor home. The medical examiner ruled
it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
To this day no one knows the gunman's motives. Some say he was
high on drugs. Others said he was mentally ill. I heard he was dying of brain
cancer. But no matter the motive, with more than 275,000 spectators lining
the parade route on that hot San Antonio day, the death toll could have been
worse. Much worse!
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Photo Credit: San Antonio Express-News (MYSA)
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