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UT Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Tower Shooting

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Tower Memorial Dedication darkened Tower 2016. In honor of the victims of the Aug. 1, 1966 shooting, the Tower clock was stopped at 11:48 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2016, the time when the shooting began 50 years ago.

Last August, a large gathering of students, faculty, staff and community members came together under a white tent at the Tower Garden to honor the victims, survivors and first responders whose lives were forever changed on Aug. 1, 1966.

“We come together to remember that tragic day in the history of our university,” said President Gregory L. Fenves in his opening remarks at the Tower Memorial ceremony. “We come together to remember the 17  lives lost.”

The rededication ceremony, organized by the DDCE, the Office of the President and members of the Tower Memorial Committee, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Tower shooting. In an unfortunate coincidence, the new state law known as campus carry went into effect on the same day the school mourned the victims of the UT Tower sniper.

Despite the ironic timing of the law, the day remained focused on the shared experiences of former students, faculty and staff, service providers and police officers that fateful day in 1966. Many of those present had not seen each other in many years; others had not
returned to campus since the incident.

The moving ceremony began at 11:40 a.m. on the main mall of campus, with the carillon bells tolling. At 11:48 a.m. —the time the shooting  began—the tower clock was stopped for 24 hours. Those gathered proceeded to the Tower Garden where the ceremony continued, including remarks from President Gregory L. Fenves, shooting survivor Clare Wilson James, UT student witness Jim Bryce and Congressman Lloyd Doggett. The tower bells tolled as each of the names of those who died that day were read.

“Let this memorial remain here on this campus and in our minds as a reminder of the power that we have in each moment to become a community of love and reverence for life,” said Claire Wilson James.

Wilson was among a group of survivors who formed the Texas Tower Memorial Committee in August 2014 to propose an updated memorial to the Tower Garden. The committee—comprised of shooting victims, student witnesses, current student leaders and a former member of the Board of Regents—worked alongside senior staff in the DDCE’s Office of Community and External Relations to plan the monument and the university-wide ceremony.

With a generous gift from Cook-Walden Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, they secured a large pink granite stone, engraved with the names of those who lost their lives and a matching bench that honors the brave service men and women who risked their lives to save others. The new structures replace the original stone and bronze plaque in the Tower Garden.

“With the permanence of Texas pink granite, we’ll be saying to generations of Longhorns that there is great courage amidst the violence and the madness,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who served as student body president in 1967-68.

Now the DDCE and the Texas Tower Memorial Committee are working with the Office of the President to place a Tower Heroes plaque on the Main Building’s observation deck. The plaque will commemorate law enforcement officials, medical personnel and other citizens who demonstrated acts of heroism on the day of the Tower shooting. The plaque also honors all who were heroes but whose names will  never be known.

To provide a final sense of closure, the College of Fine Arts is planning to perform a wind ensemble piece—expressing through music what words cannot verbalize. The performance is set for next spring.

Photo by Marsha Miller