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Garden now a memorial to victims of UT sniper


This story originally was published on Aug. 2, 1999.

A green, peaceful place where, more than three decades ago, horror and death exploded from above, was dedicated Sunday to those who died and those whose lives were forever changed by Charles Whitman's bullets.

In a brief, somber ceremony, University of Texas President Larry Faulkner spoke at the leafy, sun-dappled plot of about one-half acre just north of the UT Tower. That area, known informally as the "turtle pond" for the pool along one side, officially became the Tower Garden on Sunday, the 33rd anniversary of the 1966 shootings that claimed 17 lives, including the sniper's.

About 100 people attended the 4 p.m. ceremony. Earlier in the day, flags on the main mall were lowered to half-staff. The Tower's chimes fell silent. Sunday night, its lights were darkened.

"Although near the center of campus activity, it remains a tranquil oasis," Faulkner said in dedicating the space, created in 1934 as a botanical garden. "This beautiful corner of the campus will help us remember what happened, the lives interrupted, the plans that went unfulfilled."

One of those lives was that of Roy Dell Schmidt, 29, who worked for the City of Austin Electric Department and was returning from a call on Aug. 1, 1966, when people on the street shouted at him to run for cover. He left his truck and ran. He was shot and killed.

On Sunday, his sister, Mildred Lynch of Moody, said that although she grew up in Austin and still visits frequently, she hasn't been to the Tower since her brother's death. The new garden will change that, though.

"It's very nice. It's something we can come back to," she said.

Carolyn Arnold was there Sunday with her daughter, Kim, who on that day was a 16-month-old baby in her mother's arms. Arnold was at the corner of 24th and Guadalupe streets when the first shots were fired just after noon.

"I watched everybody hide behind trees, and I was so frightened I just wanted to run and hide. But a guy standing next to me said, `Don't run. He's a marksman, and he'll shoot.' So I moved back under the shade of an awning and stayed still."

This was only the second time Arnold has been back to the Tower. The first time was the 30th anniversary. Arnold wanted her daughter to be with her Sunday because "she doesn't remember it, but it was something we experienced together."

Clif Drummond was 23 years old and the UT student body president. He had been shopping in the University Co-op across Guadalupe Street from the Tower and was walking on the West Mall as the shooting began. He ran into his office in the UT Union and, a pharmacy major at the time, grabbed his lab coat. "I figured I needed it for bandages, because I knew I was going to go out and do something."

He ran, zig-zag, back across Guadalupe Street. Over the next bloody hour and a half, he and others with him pulled four people, dead and wounded, off the street and sidewalk. On Sunday, he said, "I would reckon there were 100 people at least who did what I did that day."

Wayne Schmidt of Austin, the brother of Roy Dell Schmidt, still looks forward to the eventual reopening of the Tower's observation deck, closed since 1975 because of suicide leaps. "If you go up by yourself early in the morning, or in the evening to watch the sunset," he said, "it's a beautiful place to be."

Yet every time Schmidt sees the Tower, he thinks about that day so many years ago. "But," he said, "that's life. And you have to go on -- say a prayer to yourself and keep going."


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