Survivor of the Texas Tower Sniper shares his story 54 years later

The+University+of+Texas+at+Austin%E2%80%99s+clock+tower+remains+an+iconic+landmark+for+the+college.

By Larry D. Moore - Creative Commons

The University of Texas at Austin’s clock tower remains an iconic landmark for the college.

Addison Martin, Contributor

The morning of Aug. 1, 1966 was supposed to be a normal morning. David Bayless Jr., an incoming freshman studying dentistry at the University of Texas at Austin at the time, was preparing for freshman orientation with his itinerary in hand. Little did Bayless know the day would be memorable in more ways than one.

Charles Whitman, after murdering both his wife and his mother earlier that morning, climbed to the top of the clock tower at the university and began aimlessly firing shots at random civilians. Bayless was one of them.

Just before noon, Bayless was headed to his next location. While walking across the Main Mall, a commons area in the middle of the campus, he happened to pass a couple, Claire Wilson and Thomas Eckman. “I got probably, I don’t know, 20 yards away from them. They were kind of right in the middle of the mall, and I was down closer to where I was headed, and the tower was behind me,” Bayless explained.

Suddenly, a shot rang out.

At first, he thought it was a car backfiring on the street next to him known as The Drag. “I just kind of turned around to look towards The Drag because that’s where the cars were.”

Bayless explained that as he was looking, out of the corner of his eye he saw Eckman grabbing his head and bending forward, while Wilson was pulled down under his weight. Due to the midday August heat, Bayless had originally thought the young man was having a heat stroke, as they were common at this time.

His first move was to walk back to them to see if there was anything he could do to help. Just as he took a few more steps, Eckman was shot again and died right there on the concrete. Once this happened, underneath the tower, a man suddenly screamed, “Run! Somebody’s shootin’!”

Bayless turned around, went up a small set of stairs and saw a campus police officer running to where the students had been shot.

The memorial for the victims of this tragic massacre was opened on Aug. 1, 2016, 50 years after the incident. It stands by the turtle ponds on the university’s grounds. (By Larry D. Moore – Creative Commons)

“I’m standing there watching him come up and I think, ‘Man, this must be serious,’” Bayless recalled.

Before Bayless could think anything of it, the policeman grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him down the steps. Suddenly, the policeman was shot in the leg. Both Bayless and the cop were now down at the bottom of the steps. Bayless recollected, “He’s just laying there and he said ‘I’m okay. Get inside the building. I’m not gonna move, I don’t want him to know I’m alive.’”

Following his directions, Bayless ran into Batts Hall, a classroom building on campus. Just as he did, the bell rang. It’s noon – class is out. It has been 12 minutes since the first shot had rung out. Students quickly spilled out into the hallway.

Bayless attempted to warn everyone that there was a shooter firing shots just outside the door, but no one believed him.

“Of course, I’m an eighteen-year-old freshman and this building is full of twenty-one-year-old juniors looking at me like ‘Yeah…’” Bayless explained.   

At this point, Bayless said nobody knew there was someone in the tower. A student standing next to him told him to go with him to the second level of the building.

Once in a classroom, Bayless and the other young man peered out the window with their heads down and only their eyes above the windowsill, in an attempt to look outside without getting shot. Still, no one had a clue that anyone was in the tower.

“The guy that’s with me – and I still don’t know his name to this day – he said ‘Look, look, look! There!’” He had spotted Whitman on one of the top levels of the clock tower. They watched him circle the tower for about 20 minutes before the door to the classroom burst open with the Austin Police at the threshold.

They turned the lights on to search the room and the young men for weapons. When asked by law enforcement what they were doing there, Bayless pointed out Whitman’s head bobbing along the top of the tower.

“That’s really the first time the police knew that that’s where it was coming from,” Bayless explained.

They were told to leave the building by the policemen, so they did. One would think they would be clueless as to what to do next, but Bayless and the young man knew.      

“He looked at me and said ‘You want to get a beer?’ and I said ‘Sure.’”

Bayless Insurance has been in business for more than 50 years and is located in Denison, Texas on the corner of North Fannin Avenue and West Woodard Street. (By Addison Martin)

Four hours and a few beers later, Bayless still sat in the bar, waiting to use the phone.  Whitman was dead by the hands of police officers. He had murdered 16 people and wounded 31 others.

The next day it was almost as if everything were back to normal, as if the shooting never happened. Bayless was dropped off at the campus with his same itinerary in hand and went about business as usual.

Bayless stated that the only indication that anything had happened was the janitorial staff scrubbing blood off the ground at the Mall. “It was just another day,”  Bayless stated. The tragedy was only on the news for about a week.

Bayless revealed he was not scared during the incident because everything had escalated so quickly. “I’ve reconciled with myself that I was awfully lucky in a great sense, especially with the policeman who pulled me down,” he said.

Bayless started off his college career as a dental student but after some time he switched to studying business management instead.

In 1978 he went into the insurance business with his father. Today, he still runs his insurance company, Bayless Insurance, in Denison, Texas.

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