Michael Lonsford

Student, Tower

00:00 / 10:20
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“Yes, I was there at UT on Aug. 1, 1966 – in the Tower Building, in fact. Here are my recollections from that horrible day.

The day was August 1, so it was very hot, not very cloudy, as I recall. It also was the one-month wedding anniversary of my young wife and me. (We were both 21.)

I had a summer-school class (I don’t recall what class) in the building just east of the Tower, and I think it was about 12:30 when I emerged from that building to walk to the Tower, maybe 20 yards away, probably to get a snack out of one of the ground-floor vending machines. At that time there were a lot of trees on the sparse grounds of both that building and the Tower, so it was kind of shady walking between those two buildings.

As I made the short walk, I heard a few ‘pops’ and then I heard a male student yell, ‘They’re shooting the squirrels!’

As I looked left (southward) I saw what looked like a man and a woman go down and someone standing in the east doorway of the Tower yelling for people – including me – to hurry up and get inside.

Inside the ground floor of the Tower there were quite a few students and what I supposed were teachers, etc. Everyone was just milling around – there was no panic, just confusion.

We knew something bad was happening, but didn’t know who was shooting or why or the extent of the carnage.

I don’t recall seeing any policemen because most of us were looking out southward over that expanse of graveled courtyard and seeing people crouched down behind the concrete (or stone) balustrades flanking the south wall steps of the courtyard. On the courtyard near the top of the steps lay a woman (pregnant, as I recall), motionless. Remember, this was Aug. 1 and it was very hot, and I recall thinking that if this woman was still alive, she must be burning lying on that hot surface. Because this area was so open to the shooter, for what seemed like quite a while no one tried to help the woman. Finally a couple (maybe more) men rushed up from near the top of the south steps and dragged her to safety. I never knew who she was or if she survived.

Also, I don’t recall seeing the two men – one civilian with a rifle, the other a policeman (off-duty?) – go up the Tower and eventually kill Whitman. In the aftermath, each man claimed he killed Whitman and there was some acrimony over this. I don’t know if they ever determined who actually did kill Whitman because I think they both shot him. Later the policeman (I think his name was Martinez) became a Texas Ranger.

Because I was a journalism student and had written for The Daily Texan, when it was over, instead of going home I went over to the J-Building – as did quite a few other J-students. Eventually, a number of us were assigned stories. I was sent with another student – a girl, I think – to Seton Hospital to interview survivors. I don’t recall getting much information out of the people I talked to except that they didn’t want to talk to me! For us J-students, this was no skimpy feature story for the Texan – this was being thrown into the deep end of the pool.

In the days after the shootings, several times when I was walking across that south courtyard area of the Tower, I saw several ‘tourists’ (i.e., non-students, non-teachers) walking and looking around. I recall one man with his young child (can’t remember if it was a boy or a girl) pointing out bullet indentations and blood stains in the courtyard! And I remember thinking what a ghoulish jerk that guy was to do that. (And the word I was thinking was not jerk … )

Hard to believe it was 50 years ago. In some ways, seems almost like yesterday.”