Before Virginia Tech, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora and Orlando there was the horrific University of Texas tower shooting. 54 years ago on August 1, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman, a twenty-five year old University of Texas student and ex-marine, climbed to the top of the iconic University of Texas Clock Tower and went on a shooting spree, killing 14 people and wounding at least 33 others.
Charles Whitman with his mother and wife
In the early morning hours prior to the UT attack, Whitman murdered his beloved mother and then his wife in cold blood. Another individual died years later of complications from a gunshot wound inflicted during the UT attack, bringing the total death toll to 17. At the time, this seemingly senseless massacre of civilians was unprecedented and considered the worst mass murder in modern U.S. history.
What set the Texas Tower shooting apart was the instantaneousness of its coverage on radio and television by reporters on the scene who described the events as they happened.
Above: A victim of sniper Charles Whitman is placed into a waiting ambulance during the shooting spree at the University of Texas in Austin, Aug. 2, 1966. Until the carnage at Virginia Tech Monday, April 16, 2007, the Aug. 1, 1966, the sniper rampage by Charles Whitman from the Austin school's landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo)
Whitman and wife Kathy
I don’t want her (his wife) to have to face the embrasssment [sic] my actions would surely cause her.…I truly do not consider this world worth living in, and am prepared to die, and I do not want to leave her to suffer alone in it….Similar reasons provoked me to take my mother’s life. Note from Whitman
Sometime after midnight August 1, Whitman went to his mother’s apartment, where he took her life. Returning home, he killed his wife at about 3:00 AM on August 1, stabbing her as she slept. Again he paused to document his actions, though he wrote nothing about the events to come.
Whitman placed all of these weapons around the top of the clock tower so he could run and shoot from all directions.
Above: These brave officers made their way to the top of the Tower and shot and killed the sniper.
As police began arriving in greater numbers, they were joined by private citizens (many alerted by the on-the-scene radio report of the incident as it occurred) who came armed with hunting rifles. The expanding fire from the ground forced Whitman to seek shelter behind the observation deck’s thick walls and limited his targeting ability by confining him to shooting through waterspouts.
The officers removing the body of Charles Whitman
As a result of the lack of communication technology, the assault that ended Whitman’s rampage came about rather haphazardly. Using stairs and the elevator, three police officers and an armed citizen (the university bookstore manager!!), acting largely independently, found themselves together on the 27th floor.
UT Clock Tower Memorial
Without a plan or any real coordination, all four men took to the observation deck in a successful attempt to surround Whitman, enabling policemen Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy to shoot and kill Whitman.
After more than 90 terrifying minutes, Whitman’s murder spree had been brought to an end. Excluding his wife and mother, he had killed 14 people (including the unborn child) and wounded another 31 (one of whom would die some 30 years later after deciding to end the daily dialysis treatments necessitated by his wounds). read more
Why did Charles Whitman commit this heinous crime? Was it that his Daddy was a bully? Or his lackluster attempts to achieve success in college? Or was it a brain tumor that caused him to lose his mind?