July 23, 2006
Charles Whitman, forty years later
I finally got around to reading this powerful Texas Monthly story about August 1, 1966, the day Charles Whitman shot 43 people (killing 15) from the top of the UT Tower in Austin, and I'm glad I did. I really didn't know very much about Whitman's crime, which was the first of its kind and which spurred the creation of SWAT teams around the country. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why I didn't know all that. For whatever the reason, I just haven't seen much written about it before now.
Anyway. The story is done oral-history style, by the people who lived through it, and it's very moving. It's there for the usual limited time, so check it out while you can. It's definitely worth your time.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 23, 2006 to The great state of Texas
I was a little girl and my dad was on the UT campus that morning, but left before the shooting began. Although I was very young, I have vivid memories of that day.
There's good and bad in this article. The good: the ability and reminder to keep the incident in mind and use it behave in a prudent manner if the occasion ever arises. The bad: it reminds me that the current crop of news-folks are bored to death: looking for some drama.
They are looking for excitement when I read generic Amber Alerts and generic Arson Warnings on the Transtar message signs, or when the Chronic regularly laments about the lack of terrorism on our public transports. These signals invite someone so-inclined the promise by the media a chance for martyrism and publicity in a news-starved community at the expense of the unfortunate souls who will give their life to elevate the incident to newsworthiness. The space in this article allocated to the question of "why", and the remaining space after that question encourages it.
The recollection by Shel Hershorn, photographer for Life magazine, is the ugliest most selfish part of the article. Hershorn and his kind are the ones today advertising for martyrs in return for publicity through his employer.
Martinez put on his uniform, jumped in his 1954 Chevrolet Impala, and drove to campus. There is no such thing as a 1954 Chevrolet Impala.
Charles Hixson: I think you might be reading a little too much into it. It's a magazine--and they cover things like anniversaries of events like this. They have calendars that say "such and such happened on this day xx years ago." I too appreciate being able to hear this story from the people who lived it. I really gives a sense of how small Austin itself was at the time.
Two resources you might want to check out are:
"They Call Me Ranger Ray"
by Ramiro "Ray" Martinez: He was the Austin police officer who took down the sniper that day.
It's not on DVD, but "The Deadly Tower" was a made-for-TV movie of the incident. Some have complained about the accuracy of its portrayal, but it's interesting nonetheless. It comes on TV every now and then.
Mrs. Omit says: "Charles Hixson: I think you might be reading a little too much into it." Well, facts are facts, Mrs. Omit, and Texas Monthly needs to check them out - what else has grown like a fish story over time? In 1954 your Chevrolet passenger car was a One-Fifty, Two-Ten, Del-Ray, Bel-Air, Handyman, Townsman, or Corvette. Chevrolet may have registered the name Impala by about that time in preparation for its 1956 Impala show car, but the public couldn't buy anything called an Impala until 1958.
I was 10 years old living in Austin when this happened, and as it turned out Whitman was a student in the same discipline of engineering as my Dad, and they shared the same counselor, who came and stayed the night with us because of the press looking for him and a story. It was a shocking event, and made a powerful impression on me, enough that every year the 1st of August has always given me cause to remember the victims and the suffering that one man caused. I had been going to the UT Campus a few times a week with my Mom doing research at the library, and we had intended to go that morning but plans changed, thankfully.
I agree with Charles Hixon, that a professional journalist... once a respected career and now laughable due to such points should have atleast made the attempt at a Google search for facts and not just guessed or plagerized.
It is a sad event and one that I will never forget. I see the need to remember, and hope that the good in the mentioned writing will stay with the reader, for all the right reasons.
Charles Hixon: Has it occurred to you that the "1954" might be a typo and should read "1964"?
Your objection sounds like much ado about nothing to me.