On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a former Marine and student at the University of Texas in Austin, carried out a mass shooting from the observation deck of the university’s Main Building tower. Whitman killed 16 people and wounded over 30 others during his shooting spree. Prior to the tower shootings, he had killed his wife and mother at their respective homes.
The incident began in the mid-morning and lasted for approximately 96 minutes. Armed with multiple firearms, Whitman fired at random targets, including students, visitors, and residents, from the 28th-floor observation deck. The police, with the help of a few civilians, made their way up the tower, and Whitman was eventually shot and killed by Austin police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez.
A subsequent autopsy revealed a brain tumor in Whitman, which led to speculation that it may have influenced his actions, though it was not definitively concluded as the primary reason for his violent behavior. The event shocked the nation and led to debates about gun control, campus security, and the role of mental health in violent crimes.
Signs of crisis: A few months before the shooting, he saw a psychiatrist for anger issues, inability to complete his schoolwork, and difficulty handling his parents’ divorce. He mentioned a fantasy about going up on top of the tower and shooting people. The psychiatrist noted his rapid mood swings and overwhelming periods of hostility with little provocation.
Signs of crisis: A few years before the shooting, he became obsessed with famous murderers and alarmed his classmates with his views. His obsession with murderers began after JFK was assassinated – he had been Smith’s hero.