Woodrow grad recounts UT shooting in PBS’ documentary ‘Tower’

PBS' "The Tower" tells the story of Woodrow graduate Claire Wilson and the UTA massacre of 1966 through animation and historical footage. (Photo from PBS Media)
PBS’ “The Tower” tells the story of Woodrow graduate Claire Wilson and the UT massacre of 1966 through animation and historical footage. (Photo from PBS Media)

PBS’ poignant documentary “Tower” tells the story of the University of Texas at Austin sniper attack, which is often considered America’s first mass school shooting. It centers heavily on Claire Wilson, a 1965 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School who was one of the first people shot by Charles Whitman on Aug. 1, 1966.

Claire Wilson's 1965 Woodrow Wilson yearbook photo.
Claire Wilson’s 1965 Woodrow Wilson yearbook photo.

As most likely know, the 18-year-old freshman was eight months pregnant with her son, who died instantly when Wilson was shot in the stomach. His was one of 16 lives claimed that day, while another 31 suffered injuries, like Wilson.

“I just felt this huge jolt,” Wilson says in “The Tower” of being shot. “Like I stepped on a live wire.”

She was walking with her boyfriend, Tom Eckman, when the sniper’s bullet pierced through her. When he went to aid her, Whitman shot Eckman in the chest, killing him.

Wilson would lay there bleeding, in a sweltering 98 degrees on hot pavement, for more than an hour.

“I looked at the base of the tower and there were a lot of people there. They were yelling. They were saying ‘We’ve got to help that pregnant woman.’ And then someone else yelled, ‘No, we’ve got to help the people there’s still hope for.’ So I thought, ‘Well, I probably wasn’t going to get help,’” Wilson says.

Eventually, a brave soul with flaming red hair, Rita StarPattern, came to her side. She couldn’t move Wilson, but she asked her about her classes and her boyfriend, anything to keep her mind off the pain.

“I think I just wanted to close my eyes. I tried not to move. I tried to act like I was dead so he wouldn’t shoot again. The concrete was so hot, that at some point, I just decided, I can’t take it anymore,” Wilson remembers in the documentary.

She was rescued when two classmates ran in, grabbed her by the arms and legs, and carried her to safety in a dramatic moment caught on camera (see it here in the Austin Stateman).

The documentary is now available on Netflix, and is definitely worth a watch. The story is largely told using animation, giving it a modern graphic novel quality that is both effective and heart wrenching. See a clip here:

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