For decades after he killed the University of Texas tower sniper, the late Austin police officer Houston McCoy dreamt he was drowning in a river as it filled with blood.
“When Whitman fell, he fell near a drain, and blood was going into the drain,” said Charley Wilkison, who sat with McCoy as he was interviewed about the shooting at least twice before McCoy’s 2012 death.
McCoy had just bought new boots, which were permanently stained after the nation’s first mass shooting on a college campus, said Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
Officers back in 1966 weren’t expected to show much emotion, and little was known then about post-shooting trauma. After the shooting, Wilkison said McCoy’s sergeant sat with him on the hood of a patrol car with a six-pack and said, “Drink a beer, you’ll be all right.”
Another officer, Ramiro Martinez, was originally given credit for taking Whitman down. Later, McCoy was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and battled alcoholism (Read McCoy’s personal account here).
These days, much more is known about what officers experience in a shooting, and many departments like Austin have peer support programs to address officers’ mental health.
“There’s a stigma attached to going and checking in,” Wilkison said. “Break their arm, go get a cast. Get depressed, go to the bar. So we’ve got to do better, and police departments are trying to do better.”
In a forthcoming reporting series on officer-involved shootings of unarmed people, I hope to explore what officers – along with the people shot, witnesses and relatives – go through. I’m seeking all the perspectives I can get.
Stay tuned for news on that soon – meanwhile, catch up on the media coverage of the tower shooting anniversary:
- The Reckoning, by Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff
- Memorial Day, by Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff
- A new kind of madness, by Austin American-Statesman (including video interview McCoy’s daughter, APD Officer Monika McCoy)
- Out of the Blue: 50 Years After the UT Tower Shooting, Texas Standard
- New memorial honors victims of UT Tower shooting, The Daily Texan
- Memorial plaque announcement (2007), UT News
- UT Tower Garden Re-Dedication (2016), University of Texas at Austin