Here in Austin this was a big day in the media, though not one recognized nationwide. Forty years ago today a troubled ex-Marine named Charles Whitman climbed the clock tower of the University of Texas administration building and began to gun down students and passersby on the south and west malls of the University and on nearby Guadalupe Street.
Before heading to the University Whitman had killed his mother and his wife in their home, leaving behind a detailed suicide note with instructions to give his estate to psychological research and do an autopsy to determine if there was something physically wrong with his brain. As it turned out there was a tumor in his hypothalamus which may have been pressing on his amygdala and altering his emotional state.
He was able to get a footlocker and a small wooden crate full of guns into the building and to the top of the 27-story tower, including a Remington 700 rifle with a hunting scope, an M1 Carbine, another rifle, a shotgun and a variety of small arms. He started firing at 11:48 and ultimately killed 16 people and wounded another 31.
The incident ended when Austin police officers Ray Martinez and Houston McCoy were able to break through the barricade Whitman had made to block the observation deck door. Martinez shot him repeatedly with his service revolver and McCoy hit him with a shotgun blast. Whitman was dead before he hit the floor.
Whitman, the UT Clock Tower, and the events of August 1st, 1966 have become ingrained in popular culture, even as symbols in the minds of those who have no specific awareness of the events. It was the first widely publicized mass random killing of this sort, the model for novelists, moviemakers and copycats. It was also the first incident of this sort to be covered live on TV, with a camera crew from the local CBS affiliate broadcasting from within the zone of fire. It put Austin on the national map in a negative way which it took the Armadillo, Willie Nelson, South by Southwest and years of great music and heavy partying to live down.