Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Ballad of Charles Whitman

Today is the 40th anniversary of the UT Tower shootings. On August 1, 1966, UT architecture student and former Marine sharpshooter Charles Whitman killed 13 people and wounded 31 others from the tower's 27th floor observation deck. He also killed his wife and mother before going to the tower, bringing the death toll to 15.

In the wake of the shootings, which went on for 96 minutes, local police departments around the country formed SWAT teams to deal more effectively with high-calibered angry men like Whitman. Austin decided maybe it wasn't such a good idea to leave ambulance service to funeral homes and formed the forerunner to today's EMS.

UT officially ignored the shootings for many years. While many assumed the tower's observation deck was shut down after the shootings, it actually remained open until 1974, when one too many suicides prompted UT's Board of Regents to close it. The observation deck finally reopened in 1998 under heavy security.

On Saturday, our local Fox affiliate ran a special on the shootings that claimed Whitman was "our first domestic terrorist." You can call Whitman a lot of things, but minus an established political motive to his crime, calling him a terrorist is kind of silly.

At any rate, Metroblogging Austin's Tim Trentham has compiled a plethora of links about the UT Tower shootings if you're interested in learning more about Austin's most infamous day.

2 comments:

Sweeneys->PNW said...

I'm sitting here with my mom who went to UT at that time, although the shootings obviously happened in the Summer so she was home...anyway she says the tower was closed after that. Maybe it was closed for a while and re-opened.

My mom did a great little doodle the semester before the shootings. The doodle incorporates the tower in the background, in the foreground a couple of aliens have stepped out of their spacecraft into a smaller paddleboat-looking vehicle and appear to be pointing towards the tower exploratorily.

Hugs,
Kilian

Greg said...

Judging from the recollections of others, I think the Tower deck closed for an extended period after the shootings but eventually reopened until being declared off-limits in 1974.

I still haven't been up there myself, but I plan to go one of these days.