Public healing cannot erase private grief

This story originally was published on June 13, 2001.

When her body came to rest after tumbling down two flights of stairs, Mary Lamport thanked God. She was alive, in spite of the multiple bullets that pierced her body.

And so was her son Michael. Mother and son talked as they went in and out of consciousness on the stairwell. Nearby, the man who shot them, Charles Whitman, was picking off victims from the observation deck at the University of Texas Tower. It was Aug. 1, 1966.

"We weren't supposed to be alive," she said of herself and her then-19-year-old son, who were sightseeing in Austin. Indeed, Lamport's 16-year-old son, Mark, and her sister-in-law Marguerite didn't make it.

Almost 35 years later, the bullets are still felt. Lamport is legally blind and a paraplegic. Michael, a business owner in Australia, walks with a limp. And Mark lives in heaven, where she frequently talks to him, Lamport said.

Life magazine called the Tower shooting the "the worst mass murder by one person in the history of the United States." But that title has been passed to other killers, including Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

McVeigh's execution won't end the pain. There's no single act of public healing for the murders in Austin or Oklahoma City, just solitary struggles.

"We all have to bear it in our own way. And no two people are alike," Lamport said.

The numbers of the dead in Oklahoma City are more staggering than they were in Austin, when the Drag became a shooting gallery. The unimaginable in 1966 has become reality many times since then. And so has the public appetite for violence and death, whether it's vengeance or voyeurism.

"If they had executed Whitman, would I have wanted to see it? No, I wouldn't have wanted to see him executed. I hope I would have just prayed for his soul. Had he gone in another way, it wouldn't have erased what he'd already done," she said.

Whitman was killed by Austin police at the Tower. Monday, hundreds of survivors and relatives of Oklahoma City's victims watched McVeigh die via closed circuit TV. Only a fourth of his victims chose to watch. Still, it was a milestone of public and private grief.

Lamport listened to the news coverage of the execution from her residence in San Antonio.

"I can only relate to the grief that the poor parents and survivors had to go through," Lamport said, adding that her experience was different from that of residents of Oklahoma City.

She never experienced the public terror that gripped Austin, the state and the nation over Whitman's violence because she was in intensive care recovering from her injuries for a long time. Aside from her son, she has talked to only one other victim from that day, the mother of Alex Rodriguez, who was delivering newspapers at UT when he was wounded.

Once Lamport asked her son if he was bitter. "He said, 'Sometimes I could hit somebody really hard,'" she said.
Some emotions don't end, but occasionally the feelings pause long enough to be bearable.

Lamport has made a point of having a wonderful life in spite of Whitman by following "God's plan, " she said. And that's how she has survived.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Featured

A handful of hep Hammer horror movies for Halloween
A handful of hep Hammer horror movies for Halloween

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the British film studio Hammer Films made some of the best horror pictures in the Western world. With over the top scripts, lush gothic colors and beautiful women, Hammer horror influenced everygenre from sci-fi (George Lucas would not have cast Peter Cushing as the Grand Moff Tarkin without the latter’s run in dozens...
On the Texas coast, a hurricane recovery haunted by the past
On the Texas coast, a hurricane recovery haunted by the past

Between the beaches of Port Aransas and the vacation rentals of Port O’Connor, the Texas coast is filled with small towns that suffered massive damage in Hurricane Harvey. For some, the hurricane will forever alter the course of their future: Already in Bayside (pop. 333, and falling), at least eight families, close to 10 percent of the population...
It’s the first day of fall in Austin! This means nothing!
It’s the first day of fall in Austin! This means nothing!

Today is Sept. 22 in the year of our Lord 2017. According to the calendar, it is the first day of autumn. Which means, according to popular imagination, golden-brown leaves falling from trees; crisp, cool air; everyone in sweaters or jackets; and the anticipation of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Except in Austin.  Austin does not have autumn. At...
How to watch last night’s Emmy-winning shows
How to watch last night’s Emmy-winning shows

The big question after watching the Emmys every year is, “How can I, the humble viewer, watch all of this incredible TV, even when the season for said TV is over?” Here is your answer, in no particular order. “Atlanta” The stunning FX comedy picked up two of three awards for which it was nominated. Not only did Donald Glover...
Wedding album lost during Harvey recovered
Wedding album lost during Harvey recovered

Much of the time, we, the people, look at the Internet and think, “Why, Lord, why?” Even when (with a little Google-fu) we are able to listen to pretty much every piece of recorded music in human history, it doesn’t change the fact that the Internet has made the basest, most destructive impulses of humanity as public as humanly possible...
More Stories