UT tower shooting remembered 46 years later

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by JESSICA VESS & Chief Photojournalist SCOTT GUEST

KVUE News Austin

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 1 at 12:49 PM

AUSTIN -- Exactly 46 years ago, gunshots rang out across downtown Austin. Wednesday marks the anniversary of the infamous UT Tower shooting.

When Charles Whitman opened fire from the tower on Aug. 1, 1966, Austin first responders realized what the city had when it came to emergency medical care, as well as what it needed.
 
The first victim arrived at University Medical Center Brackenridge at 12:12 p.m. More victims soon followed. One arrived every two minutes in that first hour. In the end 16 people died and another 32 were wounded.
 
A plaque unveiled Wednesday morning at University Medical Center Brackenridge offers a glimpse at how first responders tried to cope with the chaos. It includes a word of thanks to the hospital and a picture snapped back on that day 46 years ago. In the photo crews are seen using cots and hearses to transport victims. There weren’t enough gurneys or ambulances around at the time.
 
“You could hear cries, people yelling 'I'm hit' or people yelling, 'Help him. He's hurt!'" recalled former reporter Neal Spelce, who witnessed the shooting. "Gunshots, sirens, searing heat coming down, and it was all non-stop. People would dart back and forth rushing out to rescue a body that was lying on the south lawn of the tower and carry them off."
 
The horror of that day set the work in motion to create a trauma center at the hospital. In 1996 UMC Brackenridge earned the designation of a Level Two trauma center. By 2009 it upgraded to a Level One trauma center. In the ceremony Wednesday morning, leaders announced a re-designation of a Level One rating.
 
The new ranking comes in part due to a division at the hospital which allows doctors to perform reattachment surgeries. There’s also a surgeon available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and more tools to help in a crisis like on that infamous day 46 years ago. The state designation is valid for three years.

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