After Vegas, survivor reflects on UT Tower shooting

A Houston man shares his story of survival of the deadly University of Texas Tower shooting in 1966.

HOUSTON - The Las Vegas shooting eerily echoes Texas’s own mass shooting at the University of Texas Tower.

It happened back on Aug. 1, 1966. Former Marine sharpshooter Charles Whitman killed 14 people and injured many more from up high in the tower. Many people who witnessed the tragic shooting still think about it today.

Related: Las Vegas shooting: At least 59 killed, over 500 others injured

Bob Higley now lives in Houston. He’s a financial advisor. He says that hour-and-a-half that happened more than 50 years ago staying with him all his life. There’s not a second he’s forgotten.

“It was the most wonderful place to be. You could have any idea you wanted to. You could say what you thought," Higley said of the University of Texas campus.

To the students on the University of Texas campus, it was an escape.

But in an instant, that was gone.

“It was being ruined, and I knew that it would never be the same again, and that really made me angry," Higley said.

Bob Higley won’t call it heroic, but it was. That day, he and his friend, Clif Drummond, were heroes.

“One way or the other, I'm not leaving Drummond, and Drummond isn’t leaving me," Higley said.

It was either gunshots or fireworks -- they weren’t sure. But either way, they were going to find out.

“And there across the street, appeared to be a student, resting against a parking pole," Higley said.

No words were exchanged -- just a nod.

“Drummond goes, 2 or 3 seconds, I go. I start picking up fire, someone is shooting at me, and I can tell that that person is behind me," Higley said.

Behind and above was Charles Whitman inside the tower. Drummond and Higley dodge bullets to get to Paul Sonntag, who they found was shot.

Bullets still flying, they carry Sonntag to a hearse to get him to a hospital.

Then they go back for more.

“Once you get started, and once you get under tow, you’re into it," Higley said.

They rescue several more people, and they decide, then, they’re going to end it themselves. 

“We make our way up to the tower, just in time to see the body brought down," Higley said.

But it was over.

Those 96 minutes have haunted Higley his entire life.

“Thirty-two stories?! So he’s at the tower," Higley said.

So when shootings like the one Las Vegas happen, he’s brought back to a moment he knows he’ll never forget.

“You don’t leave that behind. You might think you do, but you do not. You will carry that with you, and you need to be able to get rid of that baggage," Higley said.

Drummond and Higley later find out the man they tried to save, Paul Sonntag, did not make it.

Higley has advice for those who witnessed Sunday’s shooting. He says to talk about it, to get help and rely on the support of others. He says that’s the only way you’ll learn to move on.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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