Two witnesses to UT Tower shooting share their stories

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 1966 file photo, one of the victims of Charles Joseph Whitman, the sniper who gunned down victims from a perch in the University of Texas tower, is carried across the campus to a waiting ambulance in Austin. The unidentified victim was gunned down inside the tower, according to police on the scene. Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, marks the 50th Anniversary of the mass shooting. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 1, 1966 file photo, one of the victims of Charles Joseph Whitman, the sniper who gunned down victims from a perch in the University of Texas tower, is carried across the campus to a waiting ambulance in Austin. The unidentified victim was gunned down inside the tower, according to police on the scene. Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, marks the 50th Anniversary of the mass shooting. (AP Photo, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Neal Spelce was news director and anchor at KTBC Channel 7 when shots were fired from the University of Texas at Austin Tower on Aug. 1, 1966.

Spelce sat down with KXAN’s Sally Hernandez for an extended interview on his memories of that day.

“We got word of shots being fired at the tower on the police radio, I was preparing a newscast for noon on radio — we were an AM/FM TV combination — and then we suddenly realized all hell was breaking loose out there… I jumped in a radio mobile unit and headed to the campus to start reporting,” Spelce said.

  • Watch the memorial dedication ceremony marking 50 years since the shooting on KXAN TV from noon to 1 p.m. and on KXAN.com starting before noon. 

He notes that, unlike today’s journalists, they had to bring back their film to the station to process. “The first time all that film was shown was at 5:30 p.m. Austin time… [when the shooting] happened during the noon hour,” Spelce said.

The university TV station, in its infancy, took a live picture of the top of the UT tower. Spelce said his station then overlaid it with his radio broadcast, what he described as a “very primitive” live broadcast on television.

While Spelce said bullets were flying all around him he doesn’t consider himself a hero. “I stayed crouched down and used the door of the mobile unit as a shield.” If not a hero, Spelce is certainly a part of history. His notes on the shooting are part of an exhibit at the Austin History Center.

A graduate student’s story of escape

Jerry Buttery was a graduate student studying Latin American History. He was at a table in the corner when he heard some popping noises.

Buttery — in an interview with KXAN’s John Dabkovich — says a person ran down the stairs and yelled, “There’s a madman in the tower shooting people!” “I looked out a window towards the north and I believe I saw on person get hit,” Buttery said.

Students then saw bodies being brought down from the tower and put into ambulances and hearses, he said.

“Initially I thought I would never look at the tower again without thinking about it intimately. After a while that wasn’t the case. We left the campus a few months later and were gone for five years… By that time, things had changed a lot.”

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