UT Shooting Sparks Memories of 1966 Rampage

By MICHAEL E. YOUNG
|  Thursday, Sep 30, 2010  |  Updated 10:00 AM CDT
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UT Shooting Sparks Memories of 1966 Rampage

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 1: A general view of the University of Texas tower in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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When Ramiro "Ray" Martinez heard news of Tuesday's shooting spree at the University of Texas in Austin, his mind snapped back 44 years to a far more tragic rampage on the campus.

Martinez was an Austin police officer then, making lunch before heading off to start his shift at 3 p.m., when he heard a news report about a gunman atop the University of Texas Tower firing at people below.

"I called the (police) station and they said they needed someone to direct traffic, to keep traffic out," said Martinez, now 73 and retired in New Braunfels. "But when I got there, I found everything was fine as far as traffic was concerned.

"So I went to the tower to assist what I thought would be an assault squad."

He sprinted across the mall, a broad rectangle of concrete along the tower's south side, and saw the dead and wounded around him.

"You're focused on doing your job, getting in position to meet your objective," Martinez said. "You don't have time to think."

When the assault on the campus began at 11:38 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1966, gunman Charles Whitman was able to shoot freely at students, teachers and even beyond them, at shoppers on nearby Guadalupe Street.

Whitman, an architectural engineering student at UT and a former Marine sharpshooter, had hauled an arsenal of weapons to the tower's observation deck, including a 6 mm Remington rifle with a telescopic sight, an M1 semiautomatic carbine and several handguns.

The first police to arrive carried only their duty weapons, .38-caliber revolvers, and peppered the sides of the tower's observation deck with shots, most of which did little but raise puffs of dust when they hit the walls.

Some officers, though, went home to fetch deer rifles, and the police leased a small private plane and sent a sharpshooter up to try for a clean shot at Whitman. But his return fire drove the plane away.

With more and more weapons aimed his way, though, Whitman ducked behind the four-foot wall encircling the deck and began firing through rain spouts cut in the walls, using them as gun ports.

More than 300 feet below, at the base of the tower, Martinez found a civilian named Allen Crum, a retired Air Force tail gunner who had never fired a shot in combat. Together they worked their way to the top of the tower with another Austin officer, Houston McCoy, following them.

Martinez carried his duty revolver, Crum had an old rifle, and McCoy toted a 12-gauge shotgun.

At the door to the observation deck, Martinez told Crum to cover him and point his gun toward the southwest corner.

"I said, 'If the guy comes around the corner, shoot him,' " Martinez remembered. "Allen thought he heard him running, and he fired a shot."

By then, Martinez had peeked around another corner, behind Whitman, and saw him crouching, looking for Crum.

"I saw him, but he didn't see me," Martinez said. "I opened fire and Houston McCoy was behind me with the shotgun.

"I hit him probably on the shoulder. He was trying to shoot back at us, but we didn't give him the chance," Martinez said, his tone flat and matter-of-fact.

"I emptied my gun, and McCoy fired the shotgun. We engaged the sniper, and we killed him."

Whitman's assault was the deadliest ever in the U.S. at the time 16 dead, including his wife and mother, who were killed the night before, and 31 wounded.

His killing spree came barely two weeks after Richard Speck tortured, raped and murdered eight nurses in a Chicago town house. A Chicago official called that "the crime of the century."

It wasn't anymore.

Over the years, Martinez has learned that when there's a shooting on a U.S. college campus, his phone will ring. He'll be asked to compare then and now, and he knows things have changed for the better.

"I had some training in the Army that helped me," he said, "but as far as police training in those days, we never anticipated anything like that."

Today, technology has transformed communications. Law enforcement officers are in constant contact with their commanders and with each other. And universities can inform every one of a threat through text, e-mail and automated phone systems.

That was the case Tuesday, when the UT campus went into lockdown and the shooter, 19-year-old student Colton Tooley, killed himself. No one else was killed or injured.

In 1966, no one even realized there was a threat until Whitman's victims began falling.

Over the years, Martinez has been honored as a hero. He insists he was just doing his job.

"It was my occupation," he said. "I felt it was my duty to respond."

It was only afterward that he pondered what had happened, and how fortunate he'd been.

"After the sniper was dead, that's when my adrenaline stopped pumping. I felt drained, like my knees were putty," Martinez said.

"At that point, all you feel is relief. You're just so happy you're alive."

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