University of Texas students who were on campus on Aug. 1, 1966, have long lamented that no significant memorial marked the day innocent lives were lost or forever changed by a rampaging Charles Whitman. With the 50th anniversary of the mass shooting this year, a group of students who were on campus for the carnage intend to change that.
The group has been working with Cook-Walden Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, along with the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, on a memorial to be dedicated Aug. 1. It will replace a small plaque installed in 1999 at the Tower Garden, the area known as the “Turtle Pond,” said Jim Bryce, a UT student who was there that day and is co-chairman of the memorial committee. The group has been working on the project for about three years, he said, but it gained momentum in the past year.
“Most of us involved in this have been very upset” by the lack of a significant memorial, Bryce, a 74-year-old Austin lawyer, said Thursday evening. “It seems pretty clear the university was avoiding the issue.”
UT officials support the group and will hold a ceremony Aug. 1 to mark the UT Tower shooting and dedicate the new memorial, said Erica Saenz, associate vice president for community and external relations.
“This is an important anniversary, and the administration wants to do something for this anniversary,” Saenz said. “Typically, it’s something the university hasn’t drawn attention to.”
This year’s anniversary falls on the same day a controversial Texas law takes effect allowing guns to be carried into college campus buildings.
In all, Whitman killed 16 that day — including his wife and mother whom he stabbed — and wounded more than 30 others. The names of the dead will be etched on a 6-foot-tall granite boulder that will be placed at the Tower Garden. A matching bench will be installed and a tree will be planted, Saenz said.
She added that the message on the current plaque memorializing the victims will be included in some way.
The project — the cost of which has yet to be determined — will be financed with university money and private donations, including from Cook-Walden, whose president, Rodney Molitor, has also been providing expertise, Bryce said. Molitor has heard stories of how Cook-Walden drove the wounded to the hospital that day and picked up bodies of the slain, Bryce said.
The ceremony will include UT President Gregory L. Fenves and other invited dignitaries, including Austin’s U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whom Bryce said is interested in the memorial.
Bryce said his co-chair, Claire Wilson James, who lost her boyfriend and fetus in the shooting, has been a longtime advocate for a memorial. She testified before the Legislature against the campus carry law and has spent some shooting anniversaries at UT, Bryce said.
Bryce and James spoke with other survivors and witnesses about creating a new memorial.
“We said, ‘We’re going to push on this, whatever it takes, we’re going to make it happen,’” Bryce said. “We said this has to be done for the 50th.”