As many Austinites are aware, today marks the 50th anniversary of one of our city’s most tragic events—the sniper attack on UT’s campus that many historians consider the nation’s first modern-day mass shooting. Student and ex-Marine Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother before climbing the infamous UT clock tower with rifles and pistols to gun down almost 50 more people before police managed to stop him. In all, Austin lost 17 lives as a result, including Whitman’s.
In the five decades since, as the Washington Post notes in its remembrance of that bloody day, “The killing spree introduced the nation to the concept of a ‘mass shooting’ outside the context of a military battlefield,” and now that concept is so commonplace that we can barely mourn one loss of life before another intrudes to take its place on our TV screens. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Houston—the list is long and growing longer.
Today, as a bell tolled and the tower clock stopped, UT President Gregory Fenves spoke to honor the anniversary and the lives lost—and to dedicate a new memorial. Two UT student body presidents, from 2016–2017 and 1966–1967, read the names of the fallen.