Friday parade marks 35th anniversary of sniper rampage

Reporters, first responders recall April 27, 1979, Fiesta horror

KSAT's Jessie Degollado spoke to some of the people who were at Broadway and Grayson in 1979 when a shooter went on a rampage.
KSAT's Jessie Degollado spoke to some of the people who were at Broadway and Grayson in 1979 when a shooter went on a rampage.

When the Battle of Flowers parade kicks off Friday, many in the crowd will only know the joy it brings, not the horror of April 27, 1979, when a sniper killed two women and wounded dozens of people at Broadway and Grayson.

"It was mass pandemonium. People running for their lives," said Mel Graf, who was a San Antonio Police Department plainclothes detective along the parade route.

Angela Vierville, a longtime KSAT reporter and anchor who is now retired, had done a noon live shot, unaware the recreational vehicle behind her was where Ira Attebury was holed up with an arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

About half an hour later Attebury started picking off police officers and anyone else in sight.

Vierville and former KSAT photographer Gary Boyer had moved to another location before the shooting began.

Vierville said as people were fleeing the gunfire, "Of course we were running toward it."

She managed to go on the air crouched behind a vehicle for cover.

"Apparently we have been caught in the line of fire here," Vierville told viewers as police officers stood behind highway pillars with their weapons drawn.

Frank Maspero said he and his partner were the first EMS paramedics on the scene.

He said initially, "We weren't aware of what was going on."

Maspero said not even their dispatchers knew it was a sniper incident until he told them.

He said he recalls telling dispatchers, "Start sending backups. We need backups."

Maspero said even medics from Fort Sam Houston responded, helping drag victims -- many of them police officers -- out of the street.

He said it was one of the most traumatic experiences of his career.

Bob Heckman, a retired San Antonio Fire Department lieutenant and paramedic, said it was first thought the gunman was in a green van, so for a time they unwittingly hid behind Attebury's RV.

The night before Graf had noticed the RV parked next to a tire store.

Although many paradegoers camped along the parade route, Graf said he thought it could be a good place to stash stolen tires.

"The only reason I didn't knock on the door is because I was in plainclothes that night," Graf said. "Quite frankly, I'm glad I didn't."

Vierville said her husband and young daughter were at the parade. She said thankfully instead of buying hot dogs that were close to the shooting scene, they went farther down to get snow cones.

She said with a laugh, "I told my daughter, 'Maybe your life was saved by a snow cone!'"