Thursday, December 27, 2012

Man who shot Charles Whitman succumbs to illness

Officer Houston McCoy, third from left
Houston McCoy ended 1966 seige with '00'

Menard, Texas – Brutal temperatures hovered above 100 degrees at high noon on August 1, 1966. Austin and the University of Texas had no idea what was about to hit them.

Charles Whitman - murdered his wife, his mother, and 14 others
A brain-damaged cancer victim, a young Marine with a walnut-sized tumor in his head, dishonorably discharged after a court martial conviction over gambling and usury charges, killed his wife, bludgeoned his mother to death with hammer blows to the head, and proceeded to kill 14 people with sniper fire directed at innocent people from an observation deck on the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin.

A young woman pregnant with her first child was the first to go down, cut from her shoulder to her abdomen with a high-powered rifle round that also killed her unborn child. When her husband bent over her to ask what was wrong, another round ended his life.

Charles Whitman wounded an additional 32 persons, firing at random during a 2-hour rampage that kept hundreds of people, including those wounded by rifle fire, pinned down in the scorching mid-day sun. More than one survivor suffered second degree burns from the convection of intense heat radiated from the concrete upon which they crouched in hiding, bereft of water and shade.

Patrolman Houston McCoy was at Town Lake on the Colorado River when the first calls came in reporting the unthinkable happening at the campus.

When he arrived, he stood by helplessly as the sniper rained death on the huge crime scene below – an area that stretched for blocks in all directions.

Finally, he and Patrolman Ramiro Martinez joined a civilian named Allen Crum, a University Co-Op employee with a borrowed rifle, and Patrolman Jerry Day in a mad dash for the entrance to the building during a brief respite in the firing.

When they reached the top floor, they stepped out of the elevator and into an atechamber of hell.

A family wounded by Whitman's attack lay bleeding on the floor. The father pointed to the door, and said, “He's out there,” after the officers struggled with another man for possession of a gun he wanted to use on Whitman for murdering his wife. A woman who survived the attack later said she thought a large blood stain on the floor was spilled varnish, and that Whitman, who was standing there with two rifles in his hands, was there to shoot pigeons.

Together, the quartet climbed the staircase that led to the observation deck.

Whitman, gunned down at the tower
Mr. Crum went one way around the side of the clock tower, while the two patrolmen went the other. When they rounded the corner, they saw Whitman sitting with his back to the north wall at a distance of 50 feet. Patrolman Ramirez emptied his revolver in an attempt to shoot Whitman; every shot missed, but he succeeded in suppressing Whitman's return fire.

At that point, Houston McCoy jumped from his hiding place behind Ramirez' crouching combat stance, and fired two loads of '00' buckshot at Whitman, ending his life, and finally putting a stop to the terrible siege.

Reporters assumed Patrolman Ramirez had ended Whitman's life. Like the John Wayne character in the film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Officer McCoy did nothing to disabuse them of their misconception. Ramirez later became a Texas Ranger, and was elected Justice of the Peace in Hondo.

Officer McCoy's days of police work soon ended. He was plagued with the troublesome symptoms suffered by many combat veterans.

Naturally, the university had no contingency plan for such an unthinkable event. Who stops to think about the unthinkable?

Who knew?

University officials suffered massive public disapproval, fallout largely confined to the Austin area, in the days following the murderous rampage when it was learned that Whitman had visited the University Student Health Service, complaining of severe headaches, and had admitted that he was under the influence of methamphetamines.

Houston McCoy
A mental health specialist who interviewed him during his visit prescribed nerve medication, and noted in the medical chart that during their conversation, Whitman was “oozing hostility.”

After a lingering year-long illness from a chronic disease, Officer Houston McCoy succumbed today at the age of 72 in his west Texas hometown of Menard. Rest in peace, sir.

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