Armed civilian helped stop UT Tower sniper

Allen Crum, left, a bookstore employee, made it to the top of the University of Texas Tower to help police officers stop sniper Charles Whitman on Aug. 1, 1966. (Austin History Center)
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The heavyset man holding a rifle seemed to know what he was doing.

Dressed like many detectives did in 1966 — with pocket liner in his shirt — he suggested to Officer Ramiro Martinez that they climb the stairs of the University of Texas Tower “service style.” With the chaos above them, there was no time for introductions.

For more than an hour, a sniper named Charles Whitman had been firing away from the tower’s observation deck. A pregnant woman, Claire Wilson, had been hit in the womb in UT’s South Mall. Some people, including a teenager on his bicycle, had been shot several blocks away. In the end, the sniper would kill 16 people that day, plus Wilson’s unborn baby.  More than 30 others would be wounded.

But as Martinez and the man made their ascent to the top of the iconic tower to stop the madman, the stranger asked an unusual question: “Are we playing for keeps?”

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