Officer remembers final shots of 1966 Texas massacre

Published April 17, 2007

As always, Houston McCoy slept on his beige living room sofa Sunday night with the TV blaring. He awoke Monday morning in his tiny subsidized apartment in Menard, Texas, thinking that it would be another "boring day."

"I glanced at the TV, and there was a Fox News alert on Virginia Tech," he said. " 'Here we go again,' I shouted out loud."

On Aug. 1, 1966, McCoy, then a 26-year-old police officer in Austin, Texas, brought an end to a shooting rampage at the University of Texas. It was the deadliest massacre on a U.S. campus until a gunman killed 32 people and himself Monday at Virginia Tech.

Former student and Marine Charles Whitman, 25, of Lake Worth opened fire from the observation deck on the 28th floor of the University of Texas Tower, killing 14 and wounding at least 30. He killed his mother and wife the night before, and a 17th person died in 2001 from complications from a gunshot wound.

McCoy, an officer for three years at the time, got the call about the shooting just before noon. McCoy took a tower elevator to the 27th floor, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Rookie officer Ramiro Martinez joined him, and they climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck, where they saw Whitman firing 50 feet away. Martinez shot and missed, McCoy said. Whitman then turned his M1 carbine on them.

"He had a band around his head, and I aimed at the bottom of it on his forehead and shot twice," McCoy said. "We knew I got him because that band went from white to red."

Whitman slumped down, unconscious. Martinez grabbed McCoy's shotgun and shot Whitman again.

"It's over," he told Martinez.

But for McCoy it wasn't. He left the police force without a promotion and tried several other jobs. McCoy and Martinez disputed for years who fired the fatal shots. McCoy said he suffered for years with "nightmares and a drinking problem." Now, years later, he is glued to the TV, reliving it.

"I hope it helps," he said, "instead of bringing back all of that pain."