Fifty Years Later: Sniper’s Terror Reign Ends With 15 Dead, 34 Wounded

George Kuempel

Editor's note: Five decades after the UT Tower Shooting, The Daily Texan remembers the most infamous tragedy in the University's history by republishing articles from past issues. 

—Aug. 2, 1966—

A 25-year-old architectural engineering student, perched on the Observation Deck of the University Tower, shot and killed 13 persons and wounded 34 Monday afternoon. Two others were found dead away from the University area.

The sniper, Charles Joseph Whitman, was shot to death at 1:22 p.m. by City Police Officer Ramiro Martinez, about one and a half hours after the first shots rang out on campus.

Whitman’s wife, Kathleen, a Lanier High School biology teacher, and his mother Mrs. C. J. Whitman, were later found dead in their homes.

The wife’s body was found in the couple’s home at 906 Jewel St. Police found the body of the mother in her apartment at 1212 Guadalupe.

Police said Whitman left three notes. One was found on his mother’s door; two were left at his home.

On the Observation Deck, police found three rifles, one with a scope; three pistols; a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun; and a large Bowie knife.

A GI TRUNK filled with ammunition, food, and water was found also.

Allen R. Hamilton, chief of traffic and security at the University, said Whitman used a vertical dolly to carry the equipment and supplies. He took the Tower elevator to the 27th floor, and carried the items the remaining three flights of stairs to the newly-reopened Observation Deck.

A woman employe, Mrs. Edna Townsley, who was on duty at the entrance to the Deck, was killed. Two other persons were found dead and three wounded above the 27th floor of the Tower.

AS THE FIRST SHOTS rang out at about 11:55 a.m., curious students and faculty peered from windows and doors. Others ran outside. Those in the open, realizing what was happening, scrambled for cover.

Within minutes, at least a dozen dead and wounded lay on the campus.

Some of the victims remained where they fell, far out of reach of would-be-rescuers, who could not get to them because of the accurate aim of Whitman.

ARMORED CARS were called by Chief Hamilton to pick up some of the injured. Some still could not be reached.

Among the first victims were two students, a man and a woman, who were hit as they walked toward the Biology Building. Minutes later, a man trying to reach the Journalism Building fell to the pavement, a bullet through the arm.

Many of the victims died instantly.

Among the dead were a city policeman, Bill Speed, and a 15-year-old boy. The wounded included an Associated Press newsman and an ambulance driver.

CHIEF HAMILTON said he first heard of the shooting at about 11:48 p.m., and sent two men to the top of the Tower. The unarmed guards saw the bodies as they stepped from the elevator, and returned to the bottom floor to warn personnel to stay in the building.

Police and ambulances were rushed to the University. Officers opened fire at the sniper with pistols and carbines. Policemen armed with shotguns ran toward the Tower, low and dodging, trying to get into firing range.

Special rifles with scopes were rushed to the scene. Officers raced to the tops of surrounding buildings trying to get a better aim at the fly-speck target about 270 feet above the campus.

WHITMAN FIRED from all four sides of the observation deck. He would move from side to side, using different guns. The tooth-pick-like rifle barrel was often visible over the high ledge.

Due to the rapidity and accuracy of the fire, police at first thought that there were two men firing from the Tower.

Throughout the campus, students and faculty lay silent behind buildings and walls. Some were huddled under bushes. A coed, her knees scratched from falling, lay huddled in a bunch of shrubs, crying. A policeman led her to safety.

AT THE HEIGHT of the battle, about 50 Department of Public Safety officers, Texas Rangers, and city police were on the campus, police said.

At least one student, whose wife was working in the Tower, went home for a gun and joined in the rifle barrage. Another student told police he “was a good shot” and volunteered to help.

Chips of concrete splintered along the edge of the wall of the Observation Deck as officers opened fire.

Whitman began firing through the small drainage ports, making an almost impossible target to officers below.

“There is only one way to get that bastard down,” a police officer said, “And that will be dead.”

AN AIRPLANE called to the scene was under constant fire. Helicopters were also called, but they apparently never arrived.

A little after 1 p.m., two police officers and a University Co-Op employe, Allan Crum, rushed through the door onto the Observation deck.

Crum, 40, had been deputized by the officers. The retired Master Sergeant, who is floor manager at the Co-Op, has three children.

The officers said they circled the Tower in different directions. Whitman apparently heard Crum, turned, and fired at him. As Whitman fired, Martinez rounded the opposite corner and emptied his .38 caliber revolver at the sniper, firing six times.

HOUSTON MCCOY, an officer behind Martinez, reached forward and fired two blasts from a shotgun. Police say Martinez grabbed the shotgun from McCoy and dropped Whitman with a final blast.

At 1:22 p.m., the confirming words came over the police radio in the campus security headquarters: “We have him,” one of the officers reported. “Martinez got the man.”

AS RADIOS BLARED the news, a mass of students, police, faculty, and staff headed toward the Main Building.

Father David O’Brien, director of the Catholic Student Center, was called into the building to give last rites to some victims.

Onlookers had to be pushed back to make room for ambulances. Two women and a man were loaded aboard waiting ambulances.

A FOURTH VICTIM to be brought out was 15-year-old Martin Gabour. “That’s my boy,” the father of the dead teenager sobbed as the youth was put into an ambulance.

Martin was not the only member of the Gabour family to fall victim to the sniper. Mrs. M. J. Gabour and another son were wounded. She is reportedly in serious condition. The family was visiting here from Texarkana.

At a press conference in the Journalism Building at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Whitman, a senior, was described by one of his teachers as an above average student.

AS A NON-RESIDENT student from Florida, he carried 19 hours in the Spring, 1966, semester. He was currently enrolled for 14 hours.

In a joint statement from Chancellor Harry Ransom and Board of Regents Chairman W. W. Heath read at the conference, students, police, and staff were lauded for their bravery in helping the wounded. “It’s incredible and its very heartlifting” the way people helped, Dr. Ransom said.