Battle of Flowers parade marred by terror 40 years ago today

SAN ANTONIO – Saturday marks 40 years since the city's worst mass shooting. 

On April 27, 1979, Ira Attebury, 64, parked his recreational vehicle filled with ammunition and an arsenal of weapons at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Grayson Street. He then rained gunfire on an unsuspecting Fiesta crowd that was awaiting the start of the Battle of Flowers parade.

Two women were killed and more than 50 people were injured. Among the dozens injured were six police officers.

Retired Patrolman Hilario Pena was one of the officers who responded to the carnage. In 2017, KSAT's Jessie Degollado spoke to Pena, who recounted the nightmare of a scene. 

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

Pena said he shimmied up a pipe to a rooftop, gaining a better vantage point on Attebury and his camper, then began hurling tear gas canisters at Attebury's RV. He also aimed a shotgun at the open door of Attebury's camper in the event the killer emerged.

"I was going to take him out," Pena told KSAT in 2017.

A SWAT team moved in and fired shots into the roof of Attebury's RV. According to KSAT archive footage, Attebury was wheeled out on a gurney nearly an hour after firing his first shots, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and gunfire from police.

Archive footage from the day shows dozens crouched behind cars, under chairs lining the parade route.

Pena said Attebury was on drugs and was mentally unstable. Attebury's colleagues also told The Washington Post that he had hallucinations and thought police were out to get him. Additionally, a 1979 report from the Post stated that Attebury, a World War II veteran, expressed frustration about banks and what he believed was persecution by police and unfair treatment from physicians at a Veterans Affairs hospital.

The 1979 siege prompted calls for better equipment for police, and a lawsuit from the family of Ida Jean Dollard, one of the people killed in the shooting, seeking to collect monetary damages from Attebury's estate.