University of Texas tower shooting
On August 1, 1966, after stabbing his mother and his wife to death the night before, Charles Whitman, a former Marine, took rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the University of Texas at Austin, then opened fire indiscriminately on people on the surrounding campus and streets. Over the next 96 minutes he shot and killed 14 more people (including an unborn child) and injured 31 others. One final victim died in 2001 from the lingering effects of his wounds. The incident ended when a policeman and a civilian reached Whitman and shot him dead. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history until it was surpassed 18 years later by the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre.
|University of Texas tower shooting|
|Location||University of Texas at Austin|
|Date||August 1, 1966 |
Stabbing: c. 12:15 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Shooting: 11:48 a.m. – 1:24 p.m. (UTC−06:00)
|Target||Perpetrator's mother and wife, students at the University of Texas|
|Mass shooting, familicide, uxoricide, stabbing|
|Deaths||18 (16 at the school, including Whitman, an unborn child, and David Gunby, who died in 2001)|
Charles Whitman, 25, was studying architectural engineering. In 1961 Whitman was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin on a scholarship from the Naval Enlisted Science Education Program.[L]:19 While at UT, Whitman met and married his wife, Kathleen. Whitman struggled with gambling and bad grades, and he lost his scholarship in 1963.
In the months prior to the attack, Whitman had sought professional help for "overwhelming, violent impulses", including fantasies about shooting people from the tower. An autopsy conducted after his death revealed a hypothalamic tumor.
Murders of Margaret and Kathy WhitmanEdit
Whitman killed his mother, Margaret Whitman, and his wife, Kathleen Leissner Whitman,:53 between midnight and 3:00 a.m. on August 1. In a note he professed his love for both women, saying he had killed them to spare them future humiliation and—in the case of his mother—suffering.
Later that morning, Whitman rented a hand truck and cashed $250 (equivalent to $2,000 in 2019) worth of bad checks at a bank. He then drove to a hardware store, where he purchased a .30 caliber Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines, and eight boxes of ammunition, telling the cashier he planned to hunt wild hogs.:32 At a gun shop he purchased four more carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent. At Sears he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home.
Whitman then packed into his footlocker a Remington 700 6-mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35-caliber pump rifle, the M1 carbine, a 9-mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25-caliber pistol, a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver, the shotgun, of which he had sawn off the barrel and buttstock, as well as more than 700 rounds of ammunition. He also packed food, coffee, vitamins, Dexedrine, Excedrin, earplugs, jugs of water, matches, lighter fluid, rope, binoculars, a machete, three knives, a transistor radio, toilet paper, a razor, and a bottle of deodorant.:31 He put khaki coveralls on over his shirt and jeans.:28
Whitman arrives on campusEdit
At approximately 11:25 a.m.,:31 Whitman reached the University of Texas at Austin, where he showed false research assistant identification to obtain a parking permit.:31 Whitman wheeled his equipment toward the Main Building of the University.:29 Entering the Main Building, Whitman found the elevator did not work. An employee named Vera Palmer activated it for him; Whitman thanked Palmer, stating, "Thank you ma'am", before repeatedly saying: "You don't know how happy that makes me.":32
Exiting the elevator on the 27th floor, he hauled the dolly and equipment up a flight of stairs to a hallway, from which another flight led to the rooms skirted by the observation deck.[L]:126 There he encountered receptionist Edna Townsley.
Persons killed or injuredEdit
|Edna Elizabeth Townsley||51||F||K||Observation deck receptionist||Whitman knocked Townsley to the floor and split the back of her skull with his rifle butt, then struck her above the left eye before dragging her behind a couch. As Cheryl Botts and Don Walden entered the reception area from the observation deck, Walden noticed Whitman's guns and assumed that he was going to the observation deck to shoot pigeons. Whitman smiled, "Hi, how are you?" as they went down to the elevator.[L]:128-9 He then pushed a desk across the entrance from the stairway.:30|
M.J. Gabour, his wife Mary Frances Gabour, and their sons Mike and Mark were in Austin visiting M.J.'s sister Marguerite Lamport and her husband William Lamport . Around 11:45 am they were climbing the stairs from the 27th floor when they encountered the desk Whitman had placed in the entrance to the reception area. As Mike and Mark squeezed past, Whitman came forward and fired his shotgun, hitting Mike in the shoulder and Mark in the head, then fired down the stairs, striking Marguerite and Mary Frances. M.J. and William, farther down the stairs, were not hit and went for help at Mike's urging. Whitman then shot Townsley in the head before exiting to the observation deck.[L]:135
Mike Gabour's injuries left him unable to complete his Air Force training, and Mary Frances was left paralyzed from the neck down and legally blind.
|Mike Gabour||19||M||I||Cadet, US Air Force Academy|
|Martin "Mark" Gabour||16||M||K||High school student|
|Mary Frances Gabour||F||I|
|Claire Wilson||18||F||I||Student||At 11:48 a.m. Whitman began shooting from the observation deck 231 feet (70 m) above the ground, targeting people on the campus and on a section of Guadalupe Street known as the Drag, which was home to coffee shops, bookstores, and other student hangouts.
Wilson was the first person Whitman shot from the tower. She and Eckman were leaving the Student Union when Wilson, eight months pregnant, was shot in the abdomen at 11:47 am; her baby was killed. As Eckman went to her aid he was shot in the chest and died instantly. Passerby Rita Starpattern lay next to Wilson, and for an hour comforted her and kept her conscious. Eventually James Love, John "Artly" Fox and others left their protected location (while Whitman was still shooting) and carried Wilson to safety and also retrieved Eckman's body. Wilson remained hospitalized for three months.
|Baby Boy Wilson||M||K||Unborn child|
|Thomas Frederick Eckman||18||M||K||Student|
|Robert Hamilton Boyer||33||M||K||Mathematician (see Boyer–Lindquist coordinates)||Boyer, the third person shot from the tower, was struck in the lower back. Huffman was shot next, in the arm, and fell to the ground feigning death. Secretary Charlotte Darehshori came under fire as she ran to help Boyer and Huffman; she took refuge behind a concrete flagpole for an hour and a half and was not injured.|
|Devereau Huffman||31||M||I||PhD student|
|David Mattson||22||M||I||Peace Corps volunteers||Mattson, Ehlke, and Herman were walking to lunch when a bullet blew off part of Mattson's wrist. Ehlke was struck in the arm by shrapnel, then in the leg by a bullet when he left cover to bring Mattson to safety. Kelley was shot in the leg while helping Mattson, Ehlke, and Herman into his shop.[L]:177-8Ashton was shot in the chest on his way to meet Mattson and Ehlke for lunch.|
|Thomas Aquinas Ashton||22||M||K|
|Homer J. Kelley||64||M||I||Shopkeeper|
|Nancy Harvey||21||F||I||Student||Harvey and Evganides were leaving the tower for lunch when they heard shots. They returned inside, where a guard told them it was safe to leave again. About 100 yards from the tower Harvey was shot in the hip; Evganides was struck in the left leg by the ricochet of the same shot.|
|Ellen Evganides||F||I||UT employee|
|Aleck Hernandez||17||M||I||High school students||Hernandez was shot in the leg around 11:45 am while delivering newspapers on his bicycle near the West Mall entrance. Soon after, Griffith was shot in the shoulder and chest and her right lung was pierced; she died seven days later. Karr was hit in the spine while coming to Griffith's aid; he died approximately one hour later.|
|Thomas Ray Karr||24||M||K||Student|
|David Hubert Gunby||23||M||K||Student||About 11:55 am Gunby was returning to the library for a forgotten book when a shot passed through his upper left arm and entered his abdomen, severing his small intestine. The Littlefields, married nine days, were leaving the tower when Brenda was shot in the hip; Adrian was struck in the back as he bent over her. After some time all three were rescued by an armored car which had been pressed into service to reach the injured.
During surgery it was discovered that Gunby had only one functioning kidney to begin with, which had now been severely damaged; he was in great pain for the rest of his life. In 2001, he died one week after discontinuing dialysis. His death was officially ruled a homicide.
|Claudia Rutt||18||F||K||Rutt and her boyfriend Sonntag had just run into Wheeler, a friend, when they heard shots. They took refuge behind a construction barricade but when Sonntag abruptly stood, Whitman shot him in the mouth, killing him instantly.[L]:171 Rutt tried to reach Sonntag as Wheeler attempted to restrain her; a shot passed through Wheeler's left hand and struck Rutt in the chest. Sonntag's grandfather, KTBC news director Paul Bolton, learned of his grandson's death as the victims' names were recited on air that day.|
|Paul Bolton Sonntag||18||M||K|
|Carla Sue Wheeler||18||F||I||Student|
|Roy Dell Schmidt||29||M||K||Electrician||Schmidt took cover with others behind his car some 500 yards from the tower, but after about 30 minutes stood up in the belief they were out of range, and was immediately shot in the abdomen.[L]:173 He was the fatality farthest from the tower.|
|Billy Paul Speed||24||M||K||Police officer||At 12:08 pm Speed was with another officer and others behind decorative balusters on the South Mall when he was shot through a gap in the masonry. He died soon after at the hospital.|
|Harry Walchuk||38||M||K||PhD student||About noon, Walchuk was leaving a magazine store on Guadalupe when he was shot in the chest.|
|Billy Snowden||35||M||I||Basketball coach||Snowden, believing himself out of range, was struck in the shoulder while standing in a barbershop doorway. At over 500 yards, he was the victim farthest from the tower.|
|Sandra Wilson||21||F||I||Student||Wilson was shot in the chest on Guadalupe Street.|
|Abdul Khashab||26||M||I||Student||Khashab, an exchange student from Iraq, and Paulos, his fiancée, were shot near Guadalupe and 24th St.|
|Lana Phillips||21||F||I||Student||Phillips believed she was out of range but was shot in the shoulder.|
|Oscar Royvela||21||M||I||Student||Royvela and Garcia, his girlfriend, were shot near Hogg Auditorium. Students Jack Stephens and Jack Pennington dragged them both to safety.|
|Avelino Esparza||26||M||I||Carpenter||A shot struck Avelino's left arm near the shoulder, shattering the bone. His brother and uncle dragged him to safety.|
|Robert Heard||36||M||I||Reporter||Heard, a press reporter and veteran Marine, was shot in the arm.|
|John Scott Allen||18||M||I||Student||Allen was looking at the tower through a window of the Student Union when a bullet struck the window, followed by a second shot which severed an artery in his right forearm.|
|Morris Hohman||30||M||I||Funeral director||Hohman was using his business' ambulance to take victims to the hospital when he was shot in his right leg at the corner of 23rd and Guadalupe. He later recalled, "I laid there for about forty to forty-five minutes ... listening to two construction workers arguing about who was going to expose themselves to recover me."|
|F.L. Foster||M||I||Foster and Frede were wounded in the crossfire between Whitman and those shooting from the ground.|
|Della Martinez||F||I||Della and Marina Martinez, visiting from Monterrey, Mexico, were both wounded by bullet fragments.|
|Delores Ortega||30||F||I||Student||Ortega suffered a cut on the back of her head either from flying glass or a direct hit.|
|C.A. Stewart||I||Stewart was not shot but was injured in the commotion.|
Some mistook the sound of shots for the noise from a nearby construction site, or thought that persons falling to the ground were part of a theater group or an anti-war protest. One victim recalled that as she lay bleeding a passerby reprimanded her and told her to "Get up." Among those who grasped the situation, many risked their lives to take the wounded to safety. An armored car and ambulances from local funeral homes were used to reach the wounded.
Four minutes after Whitman began shooting from the tower, a history professor was the first to telephone the Austin Police Department, at 11:52 am.:38 Patrolman Billy Speed, one of the first officers to arrive, took refuge with a colleague behind a columned stone wall. Whitman shot through the six-inch space between the columns of the wall and killed Speed.
Officer Houston McCoy, 26, heard of the shooting on his radio. As he looked for a way into the tower, a student offered to help, saying he had a rifle at home. McCoy drove the student to his home to retrieve the rifle.
Allen Crum, a 40-year-old retired Air Force tail gunner, was a manager at the University Book Store Co-Op. Across the street he saw a 17-year-old newspaper boy being dragged and went to break up what he thought was a fight. Learning the boy had been shot, and hearing more shots, Crum rerouted street traffic out of harm's way. Unable to make his way back to the store safely, he then made his way to the tower, where he offered to help the police. Inside the tower, he accompanied Department of Public Safety Agent Dub Cowan and Austin Police Officer Jerry Day up the elevator; Cowan provided Crum with a rifle.[L]:176
Around noon, Officer Ramiro "Ray" Martinez was off duty at home when he heard about the attack on the news. Having called the police station, he was instructed to go to the campus and direct traffic. Once there, he found other officers already doing that, so he went to the tower. He assumed he would find a team of officers there, but when he reached the 27th floor, he found only Cowan, Crum, and Day.
Officers attempting to reach the tower were forced to move slowly and take cover often, but a small group of officers including Houston McCoy began making their way to the tower via underground maintenance tunnels. Officers and several civilians provided suppressive fire from the ground with small weapons and hunting rifles, forcing Whitman to stay low and fire through storm drains at the foot of the observation deck's wall. A police sharpshooter in a small plane was driven back by Whitman's return fire but continued to circle at a distance, seeking to distract Whitman and further limit his freedom to choose targets.:38
Martinez, Crum, and Day searched the 27th floor, where they found M. J. Gabour; Day removed him. Martinez started up the stairs to the observation deck, and Crum insisted on covering him, asking Martinez to deputize him first.:39
Beneath the stairwell leading to the reception area, Martinez found Marguerite Lamport, Mark Gabour, Mary Gabour, and Mike Gabour. Mike Gabour gestured to the observation deck, saying: "He's out there.":39
Martinez reached the observation deck first. He told Crum to remain at the door. McCoy and Day reached the observation deck a few minutes later. Day, after helping M. J. Gabour, had returned to the 27th floor. He realized Martinez had gone up to the observation deck and told McCoy. At some point Crum accidentally fired his rifle.
Around 1:24 pm, while Whitman was looking south for the source of the rifle shot, Martinez and McCoy rounded the northeastern corner of the observation deck. Martinez fired on Whitman with his revolver, missing, and McCoy hit Whitman twice with his shotgun. Martinez then took McCoy's shotgun from him, having emptied his own weapon, and fired a final shot into Whitman at point-blank range. In the immediate aftermath, Martinez was nearly shot himself by those on the ground, who did not yet realize that Whitman was dead.[L]:124, 214-5
Legacy and memorialsEdit
Martinez and McCoy were awarded Medals of Valor by the city of Austin.
Following the shootings, the tower observation deck was closed. The various bullet holes were repaired and the tower was reopened in 1968. It was closed again in 1975 following four suicides.[L]:289 After a stainless steel lattice and other security features were installed, it was again reopened in 1999, but only to by-appointment guided tours, and all visitors are screened by metal detectors.
In 2006, a Memorial Garden was dedicated to those who died or were otherwise affected. A monument listing the names of the victims was added in 2016 on the shootings' fiftieth anniversary. The tower's clock was stopped for 24 hours beginning at 11:48 a.m. The day was declared by the City of Austin as "Ramiro Martinez Day".
In 2008, the following names of persons who helped stop Whitman were added to a plaque on an Austin police precinct building:
|Billy Paul Speed||City of Austin police officer||Killed near tower|
|Phillip Conner||Ascended tower|
|William A. (Dub) Cowan Jr.||Department of Public Safety agent|
|Jim Boutwell||Pilot of aircraft hit by Whitman's fire|
|Marion Lee||City of Austin police lieutenant||Observer in aircraft|
In 2014, Claire Wilson's stillborn son received a tombstone in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery, after his grave was rediscovered by Gary Lavergne. Adorned with a single crucifix, it reads "Baby Boy Wilson / August 1, 1966".
In popular cultureEdit
- Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 film Targets features a character based on Whitman.
- In the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, the character of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman praises Whitman's marksmanship, along with that of Lee Harvey Oswald, emphasizing that they were both former Marines.
- Tom Sizemore's character, Jack Scagnetti, tells of an encounter with Whitman which influenced his own depravity, claiming Whitman had killed his mother in the shooting in the 1994 film Natural Born Killers.
- The 2016 film Tower is a partially animated documentary about the event.
- The 1975 television film The Deadly Tower featured Kurt Russell as Whitman. McCoy filed a lawsuit over the movie, alleging it portrayed him as a coward. The suit was eventually thrown out of court and McCoy was ordered to pay the fees of the opposing attorney.
- In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, Ned Flanders becomes annoyed by Homer's antics and has a nightmare in which he of climbs up a clocktower and shoots at people he calls "Homer". The dream ends with him firing at a postman who then returns fire with an automatic weapon.
- In the 1994 X Files episode "Blood", the climax scene in which Edward Funsch fires on a campus from a tower was based on the incident. But whereas Whitman was fatally shot by police, Fox Mulder manages to calm Funsch down in this installment.
- In the 2012 "Signal 30" episode of Mad Men, Jenny Gunther (Amanda Bauer) mentions the shooting to Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). The shooting is also discussed later at a dinner party hosted by Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie), where Cynthia Cosgrove (Larisa Oleynik) mistakenly refers to Whitman as 'Whitmore,' and is corrected by Don Draper (Jon Hamm), for whom the last name Whitman is significant.
- In 1972, Harry Chapin released an LP called Sniper and Other Love Songs. The title track was a fictionalized version of the Whitman shooting from the point of view of the killer, as well as his mother, a woman who dated him once, and other individuals. At times the narration is objective, evoking the events externally. From the shooter's point of view, the killings seemed to confirm his identity and achieved revenge for the pain of his life. Chapin performed the song on American TV, and in concerts.
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- 1965 Highway 101 sniper attack
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