Thursday, March 31, 2016

Texas Tower shootings 50th anniversary draws near

 I’m not sure what I intended to blog about tonight or if I was going to wing it, but I have just been transported out of my comfort zone by a mind-blowing article (Texas Monthly) about the life of a woman wounded in the UT Tower Shootings. Come August that will be 50 years ago, before Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, before we thought about mass shootings and came, regrettably, to accept them as inevitable. What is wrong with us that we’ve come to that distanced acceptance?

It was August 1, 1966 when Charles Whitman went up the UT Tower in Austin, well-armed, and began shooting randomly, with amazing range and accuracy. He killed sixteen and wounded thirty-two others. I was a newlywed, living in a concrete block shack on the back or a clinic parking lot while I attended TCU and my husband was a surgical resident at Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital. I was home that morning, and I remember being mesmerized watching the TV. How could one person do such evil, so much killing?

The horror becomes all that more real when you read, as I did tonight, the lengthy article about Claire Wilson, who survived the shooting (barely) but lost her boyfriend and the eight-month fetus she was carrying. Her life has been one of unanswered questions, unfulfilled longing, an inability to stay in one place long. Two unsuccessful marriages. No biological children, but an adopted bi-racial son she adores who developed bipolar problems. She asks some “What if?” questions, and you can’t help but wonder—what if she and her boyfriend were five minutes later walking across the campus? What if their class had not let out early?

It’s a sad story, yes, but it’s also one of resilience and courage and faith. It’s hard to read without weeping, but read it for yourself:

To me, it’s a story that resonates in this day of guns everywhere. Obviously, I’m not a fan of guns. If people want to hunt, fine! But why in heaven’s name do Americans need to carry either open or concealed handguns. The old argument about protecting themselves doesn’t carry much weight with me. And guns in the home to protect against invasion?  Anybody read the statistics lately about how many people are killed by inept gun owners or foolish gun owners who leave loaded weapons with reach of toddlers? It absolutely makes no sense, and I am ashamed—and a bit frightened—to live in a state that has embraced open carry. Yay to my school (TCU) for forbidding guns on campus.

The issue speaks even more relevantly in this long, endless presidential campaign. Donald Trump has, as Joe Biden said, appealed to the darker side of humanity. We all know it’s there. We all know another Charles Whitman can spring up among us The idea of encouraging hate and anger, along with looser gun control, absolutely scares the you-know-what out of me.

I think to too many of us it all seems abstract. It won’t happen to us. If that’s your thought, read Claire Wilson’s story. Me? If I walk into a restaurant and there are people there with military-style weapons, I’m leaving. Or if I have ordered, I’m leaving my dinner.

I’m honestly not sure what has happened to America as a society, but it saddens and scares me.


Bill Crider said...

I was at North Texas State (as it used to be called) that day, packing to leave for Austin and grad school at UT the next day. The TV was already packed, but I listened to the events unfold on the radio. It was hard to believe what I was hearing, and I was more than a little worried about going to Austin. A guy from my hometown was shot that day, and another one was missed by a foot or two as he was going through a door. The bullet shattered the glass beside the door. It was an amazing and terrible day, and even now, after all that we've seen and read about since, I find it hard to believe that it happened.

Judy Alter said...

So agree that it is and was hard to believe. But I am saddened by the event--and this one woman's story--but also saddened that it was a more innocent time that we've left behind.

Harriet Hunt said...

I had left working on campus while my husband was in Grad School just a few weeks before the shooting. Many times I had walked across campus in front of the Tower either going to or coming from lunch. Neil was already in Fort Worth and he called to let me know about the shooting. So, so sad!!