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Watch: On the 50th Anniversary, UT Remembers Victims of the Tower Shooting

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
KUT News

Fifty years ago Charles Whitman began a rampage that left 16 dead with dozens injured. Today the University of Texas at Austin will rededicate its memorial to the massacre.

Today's ceremony will take place in the shadow of the Tower at the Tower Gardens memorial site, often called the Turtle Pond.

Watch the dedication live below.

Instead of gunshots, the area will be filled with the sound of bells from the tower carillon. Then at 11:48 a.m., the same time 50 years ago that Whitman walked on to the tower observation deck and fired his first shots at the people below, the clock will be stopped. It will remain at 11:48 for 24 hours.

The ceremony will also dedicate a new monument with the names of all killed that day, along with an accompanying granite bench, and this fall, a memorial tree will be planted.

The redesign of the tower gardens began back in 2014 when an independent group called the Texas Tower Memorial Committee formed and sent a report to then-university president Bill Powers asking for improvements. Erica Saenz is an associate vice president at UT Austin. She was the liaison for the university on the memorial initiative.

"I think there was a feeling from some of those individuals that the university had perhaps had not commemorated this incident, and certainly specifically those individuals who died, in an appropriate way," Saenz says. "I do feel as though we've come to a place where they're satisfied with the appropriateness of the recognition and the commemoration."

Most of what was in the committee's report made it to today's rededication. The biggest omission was an initial plan to place stone markers at the spots where each of Whitman’s victims died. But, Saenz says, further discussions showed that idea was hard to implement.

"There was a lot of consideration about determining the exact location of where individuals died," she says. "Also consideration for individuals who were injured and almost died, but not died, and what about them?”

Today's ceremony will include speeches by current UT Austin President Gregory Fenves and a survivor of the shooting.

In a statement ahead of the memorial, Fenves said the memorial will reflect on a "scar on [the] university that will last forever" and addressed the enactment of the state's campus carry law, which goes into effect today: 

Fifty years ago, the UT community responded to this tragedy, the first mass shooting at a university, by trying to carry on with normal business. Survivors did not receive the support they needed, which we now know is so important. Individuals grieved privately, but we did not as a community. Although we cannot change the past, I hope today's ceremony, the new memorial, and our ongoing engagement with the brave survivors are meaningful to both them and to you.  Today also marks the implementation of the state's campus carry law. I understand the concerns that most faculty members, staffers, and students have raised about the law and also realize it is tempting to draw connections between these two events. I am proud of how the UT community has worked together to prepare for the new law, at times disagreeing and expressing passionate views but always in a respectful and productive manner.

The memorial will begin at 11:30 at UT's Main Mall. 

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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