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07/31/2016 10:10 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2016

On 50th Anniversary Of First Campus Mass Shooting, Texas Students Can Now Carry Guns

A grim way to mark half a century since the Bell Tower attack.
The Main Bell Tower's deck was closed to the public in 1974 after several suicides, and was the position taken by a snip
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Main Bell Tower's deck was closed to the public in 1974 after several suicides, and was the position taken by a sniper in 1966 who killed 14 and wounded 31 people.

The University of Texas on Monday held its first memorial of a shooting rampage half a century ago that left 16 people dead, with a survivor of the massacre leading a procession across the field where she was hit by the sniper and her unborn child was killed.

Claire Wilson James walked past the spot where, at age 18, she spent nearly 90 minutes on the pavement in the hot sun next to her slain boyfriend on Aug. 1, 1966. The Texas tower shooting - so-named because the gunman fired from the university’s clock tower - is regarded as the first U.S. mass shooting in a public space and sent shockwaves across the country.

The 50th anniversary coincides with the start of a new law in Texas that allows concealed handgun license holders 21 and older to bring pistols into more places on the campuses of public colleges in the state, including classrooms.

Republican lawmakers who pushed through the “campus carry” law have said it could prevent another mass shooting. Critics see it as a wrong-headed approach that could spark more killing.

The University of Texas at Austin tried to keep campus-carry start separate from the memorial. University President Gregory Fenves said the ceremony was long overdue.

The school did not know how to respond in the aftermath of the shooting, with many thinking the best response was to not talk about it and carry on. Shooting survivors banded together a few years ago and pushed for the memorial.

At the memorial, held in the shadow of the tower, Fenves said that for many survivors, “There will never be relief from the pain and the scars you live with that have also scarred this great university.”

In 1966, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old former Marine brought a cache of weapons to the tower’s observation deck, about 250 feet (76 meters) in the air, picking off people for blocks.

For the memorial, the university stopped the clock in the tower at 11:48 a.m., the time Whitman began his sniper attack.

 

On Monday held its first memorial of a shooting rampage half a century ago. Claire Wilson James walked past the spot where, at age 18, she spent nearly 90 minutes on the pavement in the hot sun next to her slain boyfriend on Aug. 1, 1966. The Texas tower shooting - so-named because the gunman fired from the university’s clock tower - is regarded as the first U.S. mass shooting in a public space and sent shockwaves across the country.

At the memorial, held in the shadow of the tower, Fenves said that for many survivors, “There will never be relief from the pain and the scars you live with that have also scarred this great university.”

For the memorial, the university stopped the clock in the tower at 11:48 a.m., the time Whitman began his sniper attack.

“It is something that needed to be done to help with the healing and closure for the victims,” said Austin police officer Monika McCoy, whose father, Houston McCoy, was one of the Austin police officers who climbed the tower 50 years ago and shot Whitman.

“To be walking in my father’s footsteps and to look up at the tower and know what took place here 50 years ago today, it is surreal,” McCoy said in an interview. She patrols the same Austin beat as did her father, who died in 2012.

Jim Tanner / Reuters

Survivors found each other in an informal 2014 remembrance and through the making of a documentary called “Tower” on the shooting that came out this year, with many saying in the movie they still feel emotional scars from that day. They formed a group and pressed the school to mark the event ranked by news services AP and UPI as the number 2 news event in 1966 behind the Vietnam War.

Gregory Fenves, who became president last year after joining the university’s administration in 2008, said the school has tried to keep the anniversary ceremony separate from the start of campus carry. He has spoken to shooting survivors about the memorial.

“A lot has changed as a society and for institutions since then. We understand the healing process, and closure,” he said in an interview.

“One of the lessons is that we do need to deal with the trauma and we need to support the survivors and recognize those who were killed,” he said.

Texas follows eight other states that allow people to carry concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Diana Mendoza, who graduated from the university in 2015 and now works at the school, visited the stone memorial on Thursday ahead of its dedication and said it was about time to have an official ceremony.

She is also staunchly opposed to the new campus carry law, which she said is more likely to bring violence back to the school than prevent it.

“Ah Texans and their guns. I am Texan born and raised and campus carry is ridiculous,” Mendoza said. “This could easily happen again.”

 

 

 

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Diane Craft)

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