Current and former University students gathered on the Main Mall on Friday for a living memorial 48 years after Charles Whitman opened fire from the observation deck of the UT Tower.
The memorial service began at the Littlefield Fountain and moved to where each victim fell, to remember 16 people who were killed and the 31 wounded after architectural engineering student Whitman’s shooting spree on Aug. 1, 1966.
Many of the survivors of the shooting were in attendance, including Claire Wilson James who was one of the first people shot, while eight months pregnant. Her boyfriend at the time, Tom Eckman was killed in the attack, as was their unborn child.
“This is the first time that I’ve been able to be part of a community that was involved in this and I’ve longed for it. I’ve longed for it for all of these years and I’m incredibly touched,” James said.
A group called UT Students of the World organized the event. Hannah Whisenant, event coordinator and radio-television-film junior, learned that an official memorial service had never been held for the victims while working as an intern on an upcoming documentary film on the shooting.
“The turtle pond is built as a memorial, but it’s a very tiny plaque, and a lot of people have been upset about that and with the recent shootings and with mass shootings kind of becoming a recurring problem it seemed like a good time to revisit that issue,” Whisenant said.
The walk finished at the turtle pond behind the tower, where the memorial ended with a speech from adjunct associate professor Alfred McAlister and a moment of silence. McAlister said less guns in fewer hands and better mental health care for people were the keys to preventing mass shootings.
“Actually, the same way you prevent mass killing is how you prevent suicide,” McAlister said. “It’s exactly the same thing — school psychologists, mental health experts at the grassroots level finding and helping disturbed people.”
James said she didn't feel traumatized by the event, but rather that she is a proud survivor and said she thought it was good that people can talk about it.
“Remember how important it is to try your best to talk to somebody when something like this happens,” James said. “I think it's better if they didn’t focus so much on the killer, but you know, personally, I just always felt sorry for him.”