The University of Texas Tower Shooting, 96 Minutes Of Mayhem
On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman set off with the aim of going to the top of the University of Texas Tower with three rifles, two pistols, and a sawed-off shotgun. The day would turn out to be the first school mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Upon arrival at the tower, Whitman killed the receptionist and two tourists in the lobby, before climbing to the top and unpacking his weapons.
The 25-year-old architectural engineering major and ex-Marine had already murdered his mother, Margaret, and his wife, Kathy, earlier that morning.
An expert marksman, Whitman was able to hit people as far away as 500 yards from the vantage point he took upon the tower. Whitman positioned himself on the observatory platform atop the 300-foot tower. This gave him total control of the surrounding area on all four sides.
96 minutes of mayhem
He fired his first shots just before noon, aiming with chilling precision at pedestrians below. For the next 96 minutes Whitman picked off his victims, firing over 200 sniper shots in all directions.
The crime scene spanned the length of five city blocks
Hundreds of students, professors, tourists, and store clerks witnessed the 96-minute killing spree as they crouched behind trees, hid under desks, took cover in stairwells, or, if they had been hit, played dead.
The gun battle between Whitman and the police
Back then there was no such thing as rapid response teams, and the local police struggled to find a way to deal with the situation.
Quickly, an uncoordinated gun battle developed between the police on the ground and the sniper. It is estimated over 1000 bullets hit the tower that day.
Eventually, it was left to local police officer Ray Martinez and a civilian Alan Crum, followed by a another officer, Houston McCoy, to “go and up and get him down”. They managed climb to the top of the tower to face off against the sniper and his arsenal.
The young officers managed to get to the tower, climb it and get onto the platform. Edging around the corner of the platform they managed to corner and kill Whitman. The tower was still under fire from dozens of gunmen from all directions – and the civilian who had climbed the tower with the officers eventually waved a white flag over the side.
Soon after the message “The sniper is dead, the snip is down” was heard coming over the radio.
By this time, 96 minutes of firing had passed and 49 people had been shot, 16 of whom died.
The University of Texas tower remained closed for 25 years before reopening in 1999.