Claire Wilson James was a student at UT-Austin in the summer of 1966. She was eight months pregnant and very much in love with her boyfriend, Tom Eckman.
Wilson James and Eckman were walking to put money in a parking meter when they passed by the tower, just as shooter Charles Whitman prepared to fire his first shots. The first shot Whitman fired hit Wilson James in her stomach. Doctors later said the bullet pierced the skull of her unborn baby. Wilson James fell to the ground and Eckman reached to her to find out what was wrong. Moments later, he, too, was shot. Eckman did not survive.
“I thought I was electrocuted,” Wilson James says. “Tom reached out to try to help me. He saw something was wrong, because I was falling. And then he started falling too. I remember he said the word ‘Baby.’ … And then he didn’t speak anything else.”
Wilson James laid on the hot concrete of the South Mall for ninety minutes as the shooting continued. She tried to lay very still so the shooter would not see her moving and fire again, but people watching from behind cover could tell that she was still alive.
“They were accessing our condition and somebody said, ‘We’ve got to get help for that pregnant women.’ And somebody else yelled back, so that I could hear it, … ‘No, we have to get the ones there’s hope for.’ And so I thought, ‘Ok.’”
She says she felt like she was melting into the ground, because she had lost so much blood.
“I felt very calm and pretty peaceful,” she says. “I just thought, ‘This is the end.’”
Later, two young men – John Fox, aka Artly Snuff, and James Love – ran out onto the mall to carry Wilson James and Eckman to an area out of the shooter’s range.
“I was just so, so happy because I thought – I thought I was going die in there,” Wilson James says. “It’s just like there was hope. … I was just totally relieved and happy and felt like there was a chance now to live.”
Wilson James spent three months in the hospital recovering from her wounds.