University of Texas tower shooting

On August 1, 1966, after stabbing his mother and his wife to death the previous night, Charles Whitman, a Marine veteran, took rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the University of Texas at Austin, and then opened fire indiscriminately on people on the surrounding campus and streets. Over the next 96 minutes he shot and killed 14 people, including an unborn child, and injured 31 other people. The incident ended when two policemen and a civilian reached Whitman and shot him dead. At the time, the attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history, being surpassed 18 years later by the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre.

University of Texas tower shooting
Part of mass shootings in the United States
The Tower, University of Texas at Austin (ca 1980).jpg
LocationUniversity of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas
Coordinates30°17′10″N 97°44′22″W / 30.2862°N 97.7394°W / 30.2862; -97.7394Coordinates: 30°17′10″N 97°44′22″W / 30.2862°N 97.7394°W / 30.2862; -97.7394
DateAugust 1, 1966; 56 years ago (1966-08-01)
Stabbings: 12:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.
Shooting: 11:48 a.m. – 1:24 p.m. (UTC−06:00)
TargetPerpetrator's mother and wife, students at the University of Texas
Attack type
Mass shooting, familicide, uxoricide, stabbing, school shooting
Deaths18 (including the perpetrator, his mother and wife at home, an unborn child, and one final victim who died in 2001)
PerpetratorCharles Whitman
MotiveHomicidal ideation, mental illness possibly caused by brain tumor

It has been suggested that Whitman's violent impulses, with which he had been struggling for several years, were caused by a tumor found in the white matter above his amygdala upon autopsy.[1]


Whitman (1963)

Charles Whitman, aged 25,[2] was studying architectural engineering.[3] In 1961, Whitman was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin on a scholarship from the Naval Enlisted Science Education Program.[4]: 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.[5]

In the months prior to the attack, Whitman had sought professional help for "overwhelming, violent impulses",[3] including fantasies about shooting people from the tower.[6] An autopsy revealed a hypothalamic tumor.[7]


Murders of Margaret and Kathy WhitmanEdit

Whitman stabbed his mother, Margaret Elizabeth Whitman, to death at 12:30 a.m. on August 1, 1966. He then stabbed his wife Kathleen Leissner Whitman to death, at 3:00 a.m. on the same day.[8][9]: 53 [10][11] In a note typed just hours prior to the murders, he professed his love for both women, saying he had killed them to spare them future humiliation and suffering.[4]: 92–94 [12]

Later that morning, Whitman rented a hand truck and cashed $250 (equivalent to $2,100 in 2021) 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.[9]: 32  At a gun shop he purchased four more carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent.[13] At Sears he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home.[14]

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.[9]: 31  He put khaki coveralls on over his shirt and jeans.[15]: 28 

Whitman arrives on campusEdit

Charlotte Darehshori takes refuge behind a flagpole as an injured student lies beside a hedge.
Karen Griffith was killed at age 17.

At approximately 11:25 a.m.,[9]: 31  Whitman reached the University of Texas at Austin, where he showed false research assistant identification to obtain a parking permit.[9]: 31  Whitman wheeled his equipment toward the Main Building of the University.[15]: 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",[16] before repeatedly saying: "You don't know how happy that makes me."[9]: 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.[4]: 126  There he encountered receptionist Edna Townsley.

Persons killed or injuredEdit

Name Age M
/ Inj.
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, and 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 said, smiling, "Hi, how are you?" as they went down to the elevator.[4]: 128-9  He then pushed a desk across the entrance from the stairway.[15]: 30 

Michael Joseph Gabour, his wife Mary Frances Gabour, and their sons Mike and Mark were in Austin visiting Michael'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, and then fired down the stairs, striking Marguerite and Mary Frances. Michael and William, farther down the stairs, were not hit and went for help at Mike's urging.[17] Whitman then shot Townsley once in the head before exiting to the observation deck.[4]: 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.[17]

Mike Gabour 19 M I Cadet, US Air Force Academy
Martin "Mark" Gabour 16 M K High school student
Marguerite Lamport 56 F K
Mary Frances Gabour 41 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,[18] targeting people on the campus and on a section of Guadalupe Street known as the Drag, which is 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; the unborn boy 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.[19] Eventually James Love, John "Artly" Fox and others left their protected locations (while Whitman was still shooting) and carried Wilson to safety and also retrieved Eckman's body.[17][20] Wilson remained hospitalized for three months and was unable to have any more children.[17][20]

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. He 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.[17]
Devereaux "Maitland" 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.[21] Ehlke was struck in the arm by shrapnel, and then in the leg by a bullet when he left cover to bring Mattson to safety.[22] Kelley was shot in the leg while helping Mattson, Ehlke, and Herman into his shop.[4]: 177-8 
Ashton was shot in the chest on his way to meet Mattson and Ehlke for lunch.[17]
Roland Ehlke 21 M I
Tom Herman 21 M I
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 shot.[17][23]
Ellen Evganides 26 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.[17]
Karen Griffith 17 F K
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.[17]

Brenda Littlefield 18 F I
Adrian Littlefield 19 M I
Claudia Rutt 18 F K Rutt and her boyfriend Sonntag had just run into Wheeler, a friend, when they heard shots.[17] They took refuge behind a construction barricade, but when Sonntag abruptly stood, Whitman shot him in the mouth, killing him instantly.[4]: 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.[17]
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 (460 m) from the tower, but after about 30 minutes stood up in the belief he was out of range, and was immediately shot in the abdomen.[4]: 173  He was the fatality farthest from the tower.[24]
Billy Paul Speed 24 M K Police officer At 12:08 pm, Patrolman 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.[17]
Harry Walchuk 38 M K PhD student About noon, Walchuk was leaving a magazine store on Guadalupe when he was shot in the chest.[17]
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 (460 m), he was the person shot farthest from the tower.[17]
Sandra Wilson 21 F I Student Wilson was shot in the chest on Guadalupe Street.[17]
Abdul Khashab 26 M I Student Khashab, an exchange student from Iraq, and Paulos, his fiancée, were shot near Guadalupe and 24th St.[17]
Janet Paulos 20 F I Student
Lana Phillips 21 F I Student Phillips believed she was out of range but was shot in the shoulder.[17]
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.[17]
Irma Garcia 21 F I Student
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.[17]
Robert Heard 36 M I Reporter Heard, a press reporter and veteran Marine, was shot in the arm.[25]
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.[17]
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."[17]
F.L. Foster M I Foster and Frede were wounded in the crossfire between Whitman and those shooting from the ground.[17]
Robert Frede 19 M I Student
Della Martinez F I Della and Marina Martinez, visiting from Monterrey, Mexico, were both wounded by bullet fragments.[17]
Marina Martinez F I
Delores Ortega 30 F I Student Ortega suffered a cut on the back of her head either from flying glass or a direct hit.[17]
C.A. Stewart I Stewart was not shot, but was injured in the commotion.[17]

Police actionsEdit

Some mistook the sound of shots for the noise from a nearby construction site,[11] or thought that persons falling to the ground were part of a theater group[26] or an anti-war protest. One victim recalled that as she lay bleeding a passerby reprimanded her and told her to "Get up."[27] Among those who grasped the situation, many risked their lives to take the wounded to safety. Ambulances from local funeral homes and an armored car were used to reach the wounded.[21]

Whitman's rifles and sawed-off shotgun

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.[9]: 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.[28]

Allen Crum, a 40-year-old retired Air Force tail gunner,[29] was a manager at the University Book Store Co-Op. Across the street he saw 17-year-old Aleck Hernandez being dragged and went to break up what he thought was a fight. Learning Hernandez had been shot, and hearing more shots, Crum rerouted street traffic out of harm's way.[29] 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.[4]: 176 

Around noon, Officer Ramiro "Ray" Martinez was off duty at home[30] 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.[31] Once there, he found other officers already doing that, so he went to the tower.[32] He assumed he would find a team of officers there, but when he reached the 27th floor, he found only Cowan, Crum, and Day.[33]

Whitman dead on the observation deck

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.[34] 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[35] but continued to circle at a distance, seeking to distract Whitman and further limit his freedom to choose targets.[9]: 38 

Martinez, Crum, and Day searched the 27th floor, where they found M. J. Gabour; Day removed him.[9]: 39  As they started up to the stairs to the observation deck, Crum asked "Are we playing for keeps?", Martinez responded, "You’re damn right we’re playing for keeps", to which Crum replied, "Well you better deputize me".:[36] 18

Beneath the stairwell leading to the reception area, Martinez found Marguerite Lamport, Mark Gabour,[37] Mary Gabour, and Mike Gabour. Mike Gabour gestured to the observation deck, saying: "He's out there".[9]: 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. 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 jumped out and fired in the direction of Whitman, missing with all of his revolver shots. McCoy leaped out while Martinez was firing and saw Whitman's head looking over the light ballast, McCoy fired at the top of the ballast, hitting Whitman between the eyes with several pellets, killing Whitman instantly. McCoy fired again, hitting Whitman on his left side. Martinez grabbed McCoy's shotgun, ran to Whitman's prone body, and fired a direct shotgun blast into the deceased Whitman's left arm. In the immediate aftermath, Martinez was nearly shot himself by those on the ground, who did not yet realize that Whitman was dead.[4]: 124, 214-5 [37]

UT Tower shooting memorial

Legacy and memorialsEdit

Martinez and McCoy were awarded Medals of Valor by the city of Austin.[28]

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.[4]: 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.[38][39]

There was no campus police presence at the time. After the shooting, there was widespread acknowledgement that security measures in place were inadequate to address campus-wide issues on this scale.

As a result of outcry following the shooting, progress toward a cohesive campus police force began shortly thereafter. In 1967, Senator A.M. Aiken proposed Senate Bill 162, which was “an act providing for the protection, safety and welfare of students and employees … and for the policing of the buildings and grounds of the State institutions of higher education of this State.”[40]  In 1968, The University of Texas System Police Academy graduated its first class of commissioned officers. Current UT police officers undergo a variety of training programs designed to help them prepare to combat threats on campus if the Austin Police Department or the SWAT team are unavailable.[41]

In 2006, a Memorial Garden was dedicated to those who died or were otherwise affected.[42][43] A monument listing the names of the victims was added in 2016 on the shootings' fiftieth anniversary.[44] The tower's clock was stopped for 24 hours beginning at 11:48 a.m.[45] The day was declared by the City of Austin as "Ramiro Martinez Day".[46]

In 2008, the following names of persons who helped stop Whitman were added to a plaque on an Austin police precinct building:[47]

Billy Paul Speed City of Austin police officer Killed near tower
Phillip Conner Ascended tower
Jerry Day
Ramiro Martinez
Houston McCoy
Harold Moe
George Shepard
Milton Shoquist
William A. (Dub) Cowan Jr. Department of Public Safety agent
Allen Crum Civilian
Frank Holder
William Wilcox
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".[48]

In popular cultureEdit




  • 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, a woman he once dated, his mother, and others. 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.[56]
  • Country songwriter Kinky Friedman - who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin the same year as the shooting - lampooned the event with the song "The Ballad of Charles Whitman," which appeared on his 1973 Sold American album.
  • American composer Jennifer Jolley wrote the wind ensemble piece The Eyes of the World are Upon You for the UT Austin Wind Ensemble in 2017. The piece is both a tribute to the victims of the 1966 shooting and a reaction to Texas legislators’ 2015 decision to allow the possession of firearms on state campuses.[57]
  • In 2007 Insane Clown Posse released their album The Tempest (album). That album contains a song titled "The Tower" based on Whitman's crimes.[58]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ Kluger, Jeffrey. "The Evil Brain: What Lurks Inside a Killer's Mind". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on December 18, 2016. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
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  5. ^ 1. Irvin H., Ph.D. 2. Goldschmidt, Ph.D., 1. Perline 2. Jona (2003). The Psychology of Law and Workplace Violence. Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd; 1 edition. p. 298. ISBN 0398074321.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "Gun Violence And Mental Health Laws, 50 Years After Texas Tower Sniper". Archived from the original on November 18, 2016. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  7. ^ Frederick, Eva (July 30, 2016). "Experts still disagree on role of Tower shooter's brain tumor". The Daily Texan. Archived from the original on October 4, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Austin (Tex.). Police Department, Austin (Tex.). Police Department Records of the Charles Whitman Mass Murder Case, Austin History Center, 1966
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mass Murderers. Time-Life Books. 1993.
  10. ^ "Memorial Day". Texas Monthly. July 31, 2016. Archived from the original on October 16, 2016. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
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  13. ^ Young, James (August 9, 1966). "Sniper Felt Killer Symptom in '64". The Boston Globe. p. 2.
  14. ^ Pett, Saul; Loh, Jules (August 15, 1966). "Whtiman's losing battle against hate, cruelty". Ottawa Citizen. p. 7.
  15. ^ a b c Irwin, Ron (2016). Mass Murders in America. ISBN 978-1329829329.
  16. ^ Mass Murderers ISBN 0-78350-004-1 p. 31
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  21. ^ a b Colloff, Pamela (August 2006). "96 Minutes". Texas Monthly. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
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  26. ^ "A sniper's haunting legacy". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
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  29. ^ a b TEGNA. "Armed civilian helped stop UT Tower sniper". KHOU. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  30. ^ Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. "Fifty years after the first campus massacre, a question lingers: Who killed the killer?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
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  34. ^ "UT tower shooting heroes to be honored". Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  35. ^ Haurwitz, Ralph K.M. (July 16, 2016). "How the 1966 Tower sniper attack fueled debate over campus carry at UT". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
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  39. ^ "University of Texas to Reopen Clock Tower Closed After Suicides". Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  40. ^ Bill File SB 162. Assemb. Reg. Session. 1967 (TX).
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  54. ^ Serrano, Richard (June 29, 1994). "COLUMN ONE : Massacre and Myth in Texas: One man ended Charles Whitman's coldblooded Austin slaughter. Was it the hero of legend, or a second officer in the tower, who says that he fired the crucial shots?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  55. ^ MacInnes, Paul (April 17, 2012). "Mad Men: season five, episode five". the Guardian. Archived from the original on August 21, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
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  57. ^ Retrieved November 17, 2020. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  58. ^ ""The Tower" by Insane Clown Posse". September 30, 2021.

Further readingEdit