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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

On August first, 1966, a man by the name of Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas tower in Austin and started shooting with a sniper rifle.

An hour and a half later, 16 people were dead, 31 injured.

Shelton Williams was a college senior at the time and a witness to the deadly incident. He's with us now.

Shelton Williams, this event more than 40 years ago, but here we are again. And what does this call to mind for you?

Mr. SHELTON WILLIAMS: Well, it brings up horrific memories. You live with it almost every day, thinking about what could've happened, who else could've been killed including yourself.

CHADWICK: You were actually a witness to this event. You were on the campus and kind of trying to direct people away from the tower. What time was this? What time of day?

Mr. WILLIAMS: It was noon, and that's because people were leaving classes, going to lunch, and I was driving down the street.

CHADWICK: What you heard that, shots - how many shots do you think you heard before you knew somebody's up there shooting?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Three.

CHADWICK: And did you know that they were coming from the tower?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I looked over across the street to this retaining wall, and there was a black man crouching behind it, and I said where's it coming from? And he pointed up over his head and yelled the tower. I looked up, saw puffs of smoke coming out, put my car in reverse and went on the opposite side of the street backwards and drove down the street about 40 miles an hour going backwards and turn the corner and stop there and got out and started directing traffic away from it.

CHADWICK: Charles Whitman was killed, what - by police shooters?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yes, there were two - two people bravely went up the Texas tower. In those days, we didn't have any anticipation of this kind of event, and a couple of off-duty people went up the tower and bravely went there.

CHADWICK: Sixteen people killed by this man who was quite a marksman - 31 injured. You would think that word would get out, hey, somebody's shooting here, and that everyone would run for cover and that people would scatter and get out of there.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Actually, a lot of people thought that there was an old-fashioned Texas shootout and went to look, and other people didn't understand the danger that they were in. So there were a lot of people that just didn't anticipate the horror that they were about to drive into.

CHADWICK: After the shooting at the University of Texas, what happened on the campus?

Mr. WILLIAMS: The immediate aftermath was something, because I went back to pick up my wife, and then we went out and walked around the campus. And it was a moment of bringing people together, actually. But beginning that night, I started having nightmares about it, and anytime you get people from the University of Texas together of that era, they will go back and tell stories about people that they knew who had been killed, people who narrowly escaped. Because the victims of this event go to the families, to the professors, to the friends, to - it's extensive. The repercussions go on, and they go on both in kind of concentric circles and in time. So it's never really over.

CHADWICK: Shelton, you had nightmares that first night.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Oh, and many since.

CHADWICK: Well, I was going to ask, how long did they go on?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I had to process it. I eventually wrote the book because I was still processing it. And whenever I'm out in public, I always look for the exits, and I always anticipate something going awry. So it has an effect on me even to this day.

CHADWICK: Now seriously, when you go someplace today, you're looking for an exit from an incident 40 years ago?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I looked for it when I came into this building.

CHADWICK: Shelton Williams, president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, D.C., speaking to us from the offices of NPR in Washington. Shelton, thank you.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And for the latest on the Virginia Tech shooting, you can go to our Web site - that's npr.org. You can also sign up for DAY TO DAY's podcast there. We do podcast our show every day. Now, you can take us with you and listen when you want. Go to npr.org or to iTunes, and you can sign up.

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