Smoke rises from Charles Whitman’s gun as he fires from the tower of the University of Texas. (AP)

They said he was calm.

They said the victims were walking one minute, bleeding the next.

A half-century ago at the University of Texas at Austin, the calm killer was Charles Whitman, a loner, ex-Marine sharpshooter who killed from his perch atop the clock tower.

The 90-minute attack, which left 17 dead and more than 30 wounded, ushered in the modern era of mass shootings, campus rampages and school killers.

On Monday, the memory of that day was inescapable as a calm killer wielded a knife on campus, stabbing four and killing one. Police identified him as Kendrex J. White.

“It was described to us that the individual calmly walked around the plaza,” the university police chief told reporters, “and basically attacked these four unfortunate students.”

In both acts of evil, the news of the attacks spread across campus quickly.

On Aug. 1, 1966, it was by radio.

One of Charles Whitman’s victims is placed in an ambulance. (AP)


“It’s like a battle scene,” newsman Neal Spelce said on the air, ducking bullets. “There’s a shot, and another shot, and another shot.”

On Monday, it was through social media.

Then and now, the victims seemed chosen at random. Wrong route between classes. Wrong time to head to the library.

UT’s president, Greg Fenves, said, “We all mourn today.”

The wounds, he knows, will linger.

Last August, at a memorial service to remember Whitman’s victims, Fenves said, “There will never be relief from the pain and the scars.”

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