Austin UT Shooting in 1966, Facts About Charles Whitman and Deadly Sniper Shooting Rampage on UT Tower

Facts about Austin shootings by Charles Whitman from 1966 killing rampage on UT's tower observation deck.

Austin's University of Texas (UT) and Charles Whitman are synonymous with the deadly sniper shooting rampage that occurred in 1966.  Facts about that bloody day in 1966 haven't been forgotten by anyone, but the recent events involving another shooting at UT has renewed what facts people want to know about that horrific day in 1966 when another sniper did much more damage. 

What happened that hot day in 1966 on UT's tower observation deck when a series of gunshots were fired at innocent people roaming Austin's university campus?  Let's break down the facts and see what happened that tragic day.

(A 1963 college photo of Charles Whitman)

Facts About UT Sniper, Charles Whitman

Who was responsible for the deadly shooting atop the UT Tower in 1966?  Most know it's Charles Whitman, a man who attended the University of Texas there in Austin and was a marine. There's so much more to Charlie Whitman, however.  He grew up in a privileged family from Lake Worth, Florida.  His father, C.A. Whitman, was a brutal figure in his life, often beating him, his mother, and other brothers in his efforts to make them comply with his rules.  At 18, Charlie came home one night drunk and his father beat him, then threw him into a pool. Charlie nearly drowned and his relationship with his father was at that time severed for quite some time.  Days later, Charlie enlisted in the United States Marines Corps and left for basic training in 1959.

When Charles Whitman served his time in the marines, he spent time at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.  Whitman also earned a list of medals and achievements while in the service.  Charlie earned a Good Conduct Medal, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, and a Sharpshooter's Badge.  He excelled on all examinations and was exceptional at long distance shooting.  In fact, Executive Officer of the 2nd Marine Division, Captain Joseph Stanton recalled about Whitman, "He was a good marine. I was impressed with him. I was certain he'd make a good citizen."

What he didn't would happen later in a violent sniper shooting in Texas.

Basically, Charles Whitman felt the more he advanced in life, the more he distances himself from his abusive upbringing. He enrolled at the University of Texas September 15, 1961 on a scholarship. However, Charlie had a setback when he got into gambling debts, surrounded himself with friends always in trouble, and his grades deteriorated.  He was courtmartialed due to gambling debts, lost his scholarship, and returned to active duty in 1963.  He married in 1962 another UT student named Katherine, failed himself later on in various achievements, was prescribed Valium to deal with his daily activities, and overwhelmed himself with trying to be a success but unable to be the person he felt he should be.  While Charlie had a good go of making it far, he buckled and fell backwards, never to regain his once solid footing. 

Facts About University of Texas Observation Tower

UT's observation deck, better known as "The Tower" was where Whitman stood, fearlessly pointing and shooting innocent people he viewed from his safe place.  The killer had a vantage point on one could mess with.  As a matter of fact, Charlie Whitman flippantly commented years later that a sniper could do a lot of damage if they wanted to from the Tower observation deck.

Some quick facts about the tower at Austin's UT: it rises 307 feet into the sky, but is shorter than the nearby State Capitol building.  The only reason the university tower seems taller is because it's on higher ground than the Capitol building. In 1937, it was open to the public and had attracted an estimated 20,000 visitors by 1966. A spectacular view of the Austin skyline was available at the 28th floor observation deck.  Besides the 1966 sniper shootings by Charles Whitman, the tower of Austin's University of Texas was the sight of various deaths beforehand. 

Deadly Events at Observation Deck Tower Before 1966 Shooting Rampage

The first of many deaths associated with the Tower was in 1935 when construction worker slipped and fell twelve floors. Accidental deaths followed from 1950 and on.  The observation deck was also host to many suicides in 1945, 1949 and 1961. In spite of these haunting facts, the Austin Tower remained a symbolic image to Texas, a figure of expansion and beauty throughout the lone star state.

Facts About Whitman's 1966 Shooting Rampage in Austin's UT Tower

Prior to the infamous shooting spree that Charles Whitman would own on August 1, 1966, the troubled man carefully planned out his day accordingly.  Whitman gathered an arsenal of weapons and supplies before embarking on the University of Texas campus to carry out his deadly mission.  In fact, he killed his mother, Margaret Whitman before the event, believing he was relieving her of the suffering she endured at the hands of his father, who was trying to reconcile their differences after a bitter divorce. Several journal entries by Whitman himself reveal his thoughts with no reasoning behind it. 

With a hand truck, Charles Whitman made his way inside the UT tower to begin his deadly sniper attacks atop the UT Tower.  Because he worked as a research assistant, he was able to get through with his identification and seal his fate.  He had a sawed off shotgun, long scope rifles, revolvers and a pistol packed in a wooden footlocker he had from the Marines.

Whitman managed to shoot and kill two people inside the Tower as he was assembling his arsenal for the sniper attacks.  The receptionist who worked in the lobby at the observation deck wasn't snot, but violently pushed by Charlie Whitman and later died from her injuries.

Once Charlie was on deck, he began casually walking around the UT Tower just below the clock, Charlie Whitman fired shots at anyone he felt like below on the campus ground.  The bullets seared through flesh and bones in 96 minutes of sheer terror that scorching summer day in 1966.  Innocent people were mowed down by the weapons Whitman had at his disposal.  The gunshots were fired at long distance and were able to kill people on The deadly shooting rampage went on for 96 minutes straight, killing total 14 people and injuring 32 others.

Whitman's bloody rage was ended when an Austin police officer shot him dead after shots were fired into his head, neck, and left side of his body. 

Facts About Austin Sniper, Charles Whitman - Brain Tumor in Autopsy

Charles Whitman had written a letter in his journal, requesting an autopsy be performed on him.  He must have known something was terribly wrong with him, something he didn't understand.  When an autopsy was done, it was discovered that Charles Whitman had a brain tumor, referred to as a glioblastoma.  According to the autopsy report it, "conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions."

Facts About UT Sniper, Charlie Whitman - Burial

Charlie Whitman is buried Hillcrest Memorial Park in West Palm Beach, Florida alongside his mother, Margaret and brother, John.  Whitman's casket was draped with an American flag because of his status as a Marine veteran. 

Whatever caused the tragic sniper shooting rampage that Charles Whitman carried out that hot August day in 1966, it was an event Austin never thought it would see again.  The fact another shooting happened in 2010, makes the University of Texas headline news again.  Thought the sniper firing bullets outside the UT campus and inside the library didn't cause deadly casualties, it's indeed an infamous location for those dying in a sniper-inspired theme.


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William J. Felchner
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Posted on Sep 28, 2010