When Artly Snuff caught sight of the UT Tower on his walk home the night of Aug. 1, 1966, he nearly collapsed.
“It took everything I had in me not to throw myself under the stone bench that was right next to the sidewalk,” he said. “I had looked at the Tower in fear for so long. I guess it was just a late reaction.”
That afternoon, Charles Whitman fired 13 lethal shots from the Tower. Two of the fallen victims were friends of Snuff’s — fellow Austin High School graduates who were engaged to be married.
Earlier that same day, Snuff met James Love for lunch at a co-op on 21st and Rio Grande streets. He had just graduated high school two months before and was hoping to get a head start by enrolling in a freshman English class at UT.
When he turned on the radio that afternoon and heard the early reports of a man with an air rifle atop the Tower, he and Love headed toward campus to check it out, misunderstanding its severity and thinking it sounded more interesting than their afternoon chess game.
“We had no idea what we were walking into,” he said.
As they approached Inner Campus Drive and 22nd Street, Snuff and Love were stopped by a fellow student yelling at them to take cover from behind a shrub. They dashed into Sutton Hall and raced to the top-floor window overlooking the Main Mall.
It was littered with motionless bodies.
The pair rushed back outside, ducking behind the Jefferson Davis statue. They were surrounded by people — some alive, others dead — but were stuck, unable to save them without running into Whitman’s gunfire.
Snuff said he remembers the Tower bell ringing, reminding him every time 15 minutes passed — 15 more minutes that each body had to lay on the hot concrete as they slowly bled out.
From his post he saw Claire Wilson, an 18-year-old pregnant student lying face-up in the center of the mall.
While shots rang from above, Snuff and James raced out from behind the statue and carried her to safety. She would survive, but her baby would not.
After they rescued Claire, the firing sounds stopped and Snuff noticed something he said he’d never forget — a white flag waving from the top of the Tower. The police had gunned down Whitman. Everyone was safe.
“I remember seeing that white flag and the shots died down and people started coming out from under cover by the dozens, and then hundreds,” he said. “But nobody said anything.”
No one said anything the next day either. Or the following day, when campus reopened and classes resumed. Snuff said he didn’t start talking about what happened until about 10 years ago.
“Nobody knew how to react to mass shootings back then,” he said. “It’s common now. There will be a mass shooting next week somewhere.”
The UT Tower shooting was the first of its kind at an American university. There was no protocol, no grief counselors and no support groups for survivors.
It took the campus, city and country by surprise, and until last week, there wasn’t a memorial that listed the names of its victims.
For Snuff, the memorial holds special meaning because of the two familiar names etched into the granite stone.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of my alma mater,” Snuff said. “I’ve never known anyone who was on a monument before, but the names of my two friends are up there, so it’s meaningful to me.”