Survivors of a mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.
On Aug. 1, 1966, 25-year-old former Marine and student Charles Whitman murdered his mother and wife before climbing to the top of the University of Texas Tower with six firearms. He shot and killed 14 people.
Here & Now’s Eric Westervelt speaks with one of the survivors from that day, Forrest Preece.
Interview Highlights: Forrest Preece
On what goes through his mind 50 years after the shooting:
“Coming here this morning, looking the way it appears now, comparing it to what I was experiencing as a 20-year-old junior at UT. I had just turned 20 on that fateful day. I had lunch as usual at 2 Moe Longhorn Band Pals at the Rexol Drugstore, right across from the campus, right across from the student union building. We had gotten through eating lunch. I think this might have saved my life. Our conversation that day went on longer than usual. The lady said that the cashier said somebody’s shooting a gun. You guys better not go out there, and so we barged right out anyway. This was 1966. People didn’t know about mass shooting back then. It certainly wasn’t part of my mental landscape.”
“Any rate, we stood there. We heard some pops out in the distance from the main mall. In our infinite wisdom we thought somebody was shooting firecrackers, and boy that guy is going to get in a lot of trouble. I told my friends, ‘Oh, I’m going on.’ And I turned to move to my right and head south down the drag to the crosswalk in front of the co-op, and for some reason some flash of intuition made me stop moving to my right, and about 10 seconds later a high powered bullet came past my right ear, and hit a gentleman named Harry Walchuck who was standing in the front of a newsstand next door to the drug store. He died about two hours later in Breckenridge Hospital. The reason I say it may have saved my life is that most days that summer semester I was in the middle of the main mall at approximately 10 till.”
On the frequency of mass shootings now in America:
“It makes me so sad. What can you say about it? Now you’d think there’s a whole group of copycats that want to out do each other.”
On how he separates the memory of the shootings from your memories of college:
“Well, you really don’t. But I think all the good times I had at the University of Texas — I was on the Daily Texas staff for a while, I was in Longhorn Band and I had so many good times there. My wife and I have endowed scholarships and funds at UT. I’m a proud alumnus. I enjoyed UT immensely while I was here. But you’re right, it does tinge things with a little be of sore.”
On the veracity of people going home to get their deer rifles:
“Oh, absolutely. Gosh, towards the end of the thing it was like a war zone out there. But that did prevent him. There’s two sides to every story. All those people firing back, many of them were law enforcement. It wasn’t just people who went home and got deer rifles. Anytime the sniper popped his head up to try to fire over the rail or the ledge of the observation deck at that point, somebody shot back at him.”
Forrest Preece, University of Texas Tower shooting survivor.