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Remembering Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy
One of Austin's darkest days was on August 1, 1966 when Charles Whitman went on a shooting rampage at the top of the University of Texas tower.
On Thursday, the Austin police officer who fellow officers credit with stopping Whitman, passed away. Houston McCoy died of lung disease at the age of 72.
I interviewed Officer McCoy on the 40th anniversary of the sniper attack.
Austin had never experienced anything like Whitman's shooting rampage. There was no emergency plan for such an event in 1966. Police rushed to the university and had to figure out how to get inside the tower without getting shot.
One of them was Houston McCoy. In 2006, 40 years after that terrifying day he and most of the other officers who made it to the top of the tower reunited for the first time to retrace their steps. They remember an engineer telling them to follow him through underground tunnels to get to the base of the tower.
After taking an elevator to one of the top floors, they climbed the stairs and quickly discovered Whitman's first victims that day. There were several bodies in the stairwell. When they reached the top, Officer Ramiro Martinez was already there.
Martinez and McCoy went on the observation deck and saw Whitman who was still in firing position. McCoy remembers it like it was yesterday. McCoy recalls, "Martinez goes into a split position. A little bit further out I had to see down there. His right leg sticking that a way, left leg sticking that away, he started firing: tat tat tat tat!
"I came back up over here, down low, shot at a head. White headband sticking up. I hit him. He slid down. I didn't like that shot, stood up straighter. Hit him over here, head bounced, he slithered down."
Officer Martinez was originally given credit for killing the sniper but the witnessing officers say it was the shots McCoy fired first that stopped Charles Whitman.
McCoy is being remembered fondly by the local police community. And not just for his role in the tower shooting.
Wayne Vincent is the president of the Austin Police Association. Vincent told KEYE, "He did not want to be remembered for that one incident and he's not. He's remembered for a lot of things. And that's why we put his name on our police association hall because he and the other guys represent what our current officers want to be. And that's willing, able and to meet the call when it comes."
I spoke with Houston McCoy's daughter, Monika McCoy. She says funeral services for her father are still being planned and that Austin police will be participating.
By Ron Oliveira