“Out of the Blue: 50 Years After the UT Tower Shooting” is Texas Standard’s oral history on the anniversary of the first public mass shooting of its kind.
The University at Texas at Austin motto is meant to inspire: “What starts here changes the world.”
The unimaginable started here on a clear summer day in August 1966. Radio reports recorded the echoes of gunfire from a sniper shooting down at people on the UT-Austin campus from the main building tower observation deck.
Until then, a mass public shooting at a school campus was unheard of. But that was just the beginning. From that point on, school shootings have become a common tragedy. What started here at UT-Austin forever changed the world we knew.
So many react to school shootings with an “Oh no, not again.” So many shootings have torn apart communities across the country: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. Mass shootings are more common now than they were before 1966, but the tower shooting did not only foreshadow more shootings, it also gave birth to an array of security measures that didn’t exist back then: modern, well-equipped campus police departments.
“We’re a full-service law enforcement agency,” says Don Verett, assistant chief of UT-Austin police. “Anything you’d expect of a major metropolitan or sheriff’s department, the University of Texas police department carries.”
This means everything from weapons to tactics. For example, Verett has a navy blue bulletproof vest standing at the ready. “I have some heavier body armor that has the ceramic plates in it that will stop a rifle,” he says. “That just stops handguns.”