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1966 Twenty-five Years Ago

February 2024
1min read

Texas Tower

Only weeks before he climbed the University of Texas tower on August 1 and took aim at dozens of his fellow students, Charles J. Whitman had confessed to a university psychiatrist that he thought of “going up on the tower with a deer rifle and … shooting people.” Whitman first killed his wife and mother, then loaded a trunk with ammunition, a knife, two water canisters, several high-powered rifles, and a shotgun bought on credit that day at Sears. He hauled the trunk to the top of the twenty-seven-story tower, got in place, and began firing from an observation ledge just before the tower clock tolled noon. His first victims had to lie for almost an hour in the heat before an armored car could be found to retrieve them. Whitman fired at points all over the campus, hitting a man on a bicycle, another watching from the bookstore, and wounding a policeman in the shoulder. Police fired at the tower from the ground and from an airplane circling above, but without visible result. Such a mass shooting by one gunman was unprecedented in America; after eighty minutes, twelve lay dead and thirty-one wounded.

Patrolman Romero Martinez was off duty cooking a steak when news of the shooting came over the radio. Martinez went immediately to the tower and with three other officers made his way up to the observation ledge. He took Whitman by surprise and killed him after an exchange of fire.

Charles Whitman, it turned out, had been a Marine, an altar boy, and an Eagle Scout and had had a lifelong fascination with guns. He expressed the hope in an explanatory note that his mother was in heaven, but he claimed to have hated his father “with a mortal passion.”

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