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Retired officer recalls city's worst mass shooting

1979 Fiesta sniper killed 2, wounded dozens

SAN ANTONIO – Even now standing at the corner of Broadway and Grayson, retired San Antonio patrolman Hilario Pena sees more than the new trendy apartments there today.

"I can see it now, even though I'm looking at you," Pena said.

He was standing there April 27, 1979, when Ira Attebury unleashed the city's worst mass shooting just as San Antonio's iconic Battle of Flowers parade was set to begin.

Two women were killed and more than 50 other people were wounded, including six police officers.

Still known as the Fiesta sniper, Attebury had parked a recreational vehicle next to a tire shop. Pena said the RV was filled with assorted weapons and ammunition.

Pena and the rest of the rapid response team, who were trained to disperse riots, were at Market Square when the initial call came in.

“’Shots fired at Broadway and Grayson,’” Pena said they heard on the radio.

Pena said he could hear the disbelief in the officer's voice on the radio before a disturbing pause.

“’I've been shot,’” he heard the officer say.

Pena said more gunfire rang out as soon as they arrived at the scene. He parked his patrol car up against the back wall of the tire shop.

Being the youngest on his team at 32, Pena was chosen to shimmy up a pipe to the roof with help from a civilian and another officer. From there, he could look down on the RV and the carnage below.

A former artilleryman, Pena said his first thought was, "Dang, am I in Vietnam again?"

"There were so many people bleeding and being dragged off," he said. "There were two dead people down there."

Still, amid the chaos, Pena said he saw memorable examples of civilians and police helping each other.

Pena said he then began lobbing tear gas canisters at the RV. It was difficult to do, given the angle, but with its door open, the fumes drifted inside the RV, he said. He also trained a shotgun on the open door if Attebury emerged.

"I was going to take him out," Pena said.

But just as the SWAT team was about to enter the RV, Pena said he warned another officer who had joined him on the roof that they should back away from the edge.

Pena said it kept them from being gravely wounded by the SWAT team's bullets that pierced the RV's thin metal roof.

Then it was over. Attebury's body was wheeled away. Pena said the shooter had been on drugs and was mentally unstable.

Pena said the experience still took its toll soon afterwards. His hands that had tightly gripped a shotgun shook uncontrollably. Pena said he also told the team he had a tremendous headache.

"Every one of them in the car said the same thing," Pena said.

The veteran patrol officer, instructor at the police academy and chief hostage negotiator said he thinks of that day every time there's news of yet another act of senseless violence in the world.

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