463. Shooters

The University of Texas Tower
photo by Larry D. Moore

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Today in Serial, a school shooting occurs in the novel Symphony in a Minor Key. Here in A Writing Life I have explained why it was there.

Yesterday in the world we all inhabit, another school shooting took place in Florida. Since the post below was written a week or so ago, this makes an unexpected and jarring contrast.

I could say, “What are the chances of such a coincidence?”, but the chances of a school shooting on any given day have increased dramatically since I was forced to include one in my novel thirty years ago. As always, I feel for the victims and the survivors, and like everyone else, I have no answers.

I am adding this note of explanation about an hour after the original post appeared.

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The original post.

Most American’s alive today have grown up in an era of mass shootings. We had not yet reached that point in 1966.

I was working on the home farm that summer. I had graduated from high school and was waiting to enter college in the fall.

On August first, Charles Whitman shot his wife and mother, then took weapons to the observation deck of the main tower at the University of Texas. Over the course of the next hour and a half, he shot and killed thirteen people on the ground below and wounded another thirty-one; two of his victims died later. He was eventually killed by police.

Like the rest of America, I heard about it on the news. It was a shock. It was something that had not happened before.

Whitman’s position on top of the tower made it hard for the police to get to him. That was not an accident; Whitman was a former Marine sharpshooter. He knew his business.

There are several talking points in this incident for people on both sides of the gun control controversy. None of his weapons would be called an assault rifle by modern use of that term. Several civilians joined the police in returning fire. They probably helped, but did not prevent the tragedy.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history, at the time. Today it ranks eighth.

Twenty-three years later, the Texas Tower shooting still ranked seventh. I was teaching school and writing Symphony in a Minor Key in the evenings. I had set myself the task of writing events in my imaginary middle school in exact correspondence to what was happening in the real world.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy shot and killed five students at a school in a nearby town, and wounded thirty others, including a teacher. I was faced with the decision of whether or not to include this tragedy in the novel I was writing.

I chose to write it in. That is why today’s post in Serial appears as it does.

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