On August 1, 1966
Left Image: Carol Riggs, 22, University of Texas
Right Image: Carol Riggs in 2018
Images provided by Carol Riggs
There was a school for deaf children right outside my office window. We couldn’t open the office windows, so there was no way to warn the parents or children or teachers. We couldn’t use the phone to call them. The school day ended at noon, and cars were lined up in front of the school, and teachers were shepherding their students to the cars. We watched helplessly and prayed the shooter wouldn’t target any of these innocents. The shooter didn’t shoot at them. Maybe he either failed to see them or was occupied with people on the mall.
When I made the announcement to the staff, one admissions officer was on the phone with his wife. He kept the line open throughout the ordeal, and she put a radio next to the phone so we could have some idea of what was happening. Again, I know the switchboard was shut down, but presumably lines in use remained open.
We didn’t know how many shooters were on the Tower observation deck. All we knew for certain is that whoever was there wasn’t someone we could persuade not to shoot us if they came down the stairs and into our office. We pushed filing cabinets against the door, sat down behind them and played cards to keep us occupied while we listened to sounds of war.
After the shooter was killed by incredibly brave men, we watched first responders bring down not only the shooter, but all of the people he had killed on the observation deck. Then we wandered outside among the carnage. It was numbing, and we were all in shock as we took in the terrible scene.
On August 1, 1966, there were no cell phones, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media. The University of Texas communicated with its population by posting notices on bulletin boards. This was an unprecedented event. The administration took no steps to provide counseling or any kind of emotional assistance other than to close the campus for the following day. We couldn’t console ourselves with communications through social media. I couldn’t even get a landline for twenty-four hours to let my family know I was safe.
Although the details have mercifully faded over the last 51 years, it is an event I will never forget.