he first gunshot sounded like a car backfiring and
didnt frighten me at all. The second bullet rang through the campus and
awakened in me an emotion that soon became terror. When the third shot missed
me by 18 inches, I instinctively snapped my head to the side and saw the bullet
lodged in a stucco building. Had I stepped a bit closer to that building on my
way to the dorm, I would have been a dead student. I spent a precious
microsecond checking myself and realized I was intact.
My gut said to run, and I did.
Books fell to the ground, class notes flew to the wind. I had no idea where
the shooter was or why he had fired at me. My only instinct was to get to my
room, and the shortest distance was through the Biology building.
I charged into the nearest entrance, headed down the hall, making first a
right turn and then a left.
Bursting out the other side, I confronted a surreal scene. Several students
were running frantically like me, others seemed oblivious and were strolling as
usual. A few were pointing up at the university tower.
I bounded down the steps, onto the sidewalk and almost slammed into a red
Mustang. The driver, apparently unaware that a gunman held the campus under
siege, motioned for me to cross the street in front of him. I did. When I got
to the other side, the killer squeezed off another round, hitting the driver
whose eyes I had just met. His car swerved, the door fell open and his body
slumped left. I just saw a man die.
One block stood between me and safety. I ran the race, crouching near a
hedge as up ahead of me the dorm mother threw open a door. "Hes in the tower,"
she screamed before the door swung shut. "Make a run for it when I open it
again. Start now!" Timing my last few yards of the sprint to arrive before the
heavy oak door fell shut a second time, I collapsed into her arms. She quickly
hugged me, then freed up her hands. Another dorm resident would need her help
to make that treacherous run, and then another.
I suddenly realized I had been in the snipers direct line of fire at least
four times. The tower loomed 27 stories over The University of Texas, its
observation deck visible, where Charles Whitman hid with his arsenal. If I
could see it, then he could see me, I thought as I struggled to return my
breathing to normal.
Dorm residents materialized, welcoming each girl who burst through the heavy
swinging door like she was a war refugee. And we were, it seemed.
Whitman, an architecture student who dressed as a workman that day and toted
his weapons to the top of the tower via its elevator, held siege for an hour
and a half. The nation watched in horror as the whole thing was broadcast live
I was in my room now, trying to control the shakes. Out my windows I saw
policemen and state troopers and ordinary citizens of Austin kneeling behind
car doors firing everything from long-range pistols to pump-action shotguns.
Bullets ricocheted throughout the campus, many with deafening blasts. Shouts
and screams followed as his gunfire rained down from the tower. No one, it
seemed for the longest, could stop this madman.
Finally, two brave police officers, ready to sacrifice their lives if
necessary, made it up 27 flights of stairs (Whitman had disabled the
elevators), stepping silently onto the open-air observation deck, guns drawn
and ready. One crept up behind Whitman and brought him down.
Now came the aftermath. When word of the snipers death spread, the campus
became a beehive as students, professors, citizens and rescue personnel
scurried about to locate and retrieve the bodies. (The count: 17 dead, 31
wounded.) Blood was everywhere. So were bullet holes and other signs of a sunny
day turned to terror. UT looked like a war zone, with the dead being lifted
onto gurneys. The wounded were being taken away in ambulances now parked every
which way on sidewalks and grassy areas where, on any other afternoon, students
might stretch out to relax and study.
I must have missed this on the news, you may be thinking. Not
unless you were around on August 1, 1966. It was the first mass killing in
America, holding the dubious record for the most deaths until the Oklahoma City
I was still a teenager on that summer day, andlike mostI assumed nothing
could happen to me. I learned different. (When police reconstructed the snipers
siege based on forensic evidence and eyewitness reports, I found out that the
first two shots I heardright before the one meant for mehad killed people.) But
our God is so good. Although rarely does a day go by that I dont recall that
event and relive the terror I felt, He used that tragedy to show me His love.
And He taught me how to use my experience for evangelism.
Following are some lessons Ive learned. With violence so common in the newsand
on our minds and heartsperhaps these can help as you share your faith in Christ
with neighbors, friends and co-workers when the subject turns to personal
Well never fully understand or comprehend why God allows one person to die
and another to live. As the years pass by, well see how God uses the death or
life of an individual to help us grow in our faith and draw closer to Him, if
we cooperate with His plan for our lives. But some questions remain unanswered,
and we must trust that He will explain these things when we are with Him in
Principle: God is in control and has a plan for my
Part of Gods goodness is that He has given us the freedom to choose our
actions. Some people choose to reject His love and do evil. Evil is so clear in
events like the mass killings that plague our society, but the truth is that
each of us has chosen wrong things.
Principle: Sin separates us from God.
No act of violence or death can be worse than the one Jesus suffered on the
cross. The news about violence opens the door for our sharing this grim but
important truth. When a conversation about my experience becomes too mired down
in "Wow! What did you do next? How did you feel?" I try to answer the
questions, of course, but I also turn the attention back to the Lord, the One
of Whom they should be in awe, not me. But, with the fear thats gripping our
society, its fair to spend time on emotions in the course of sharing Christ. I
find listening to how they feel in response to our discussion of violence works
better than recreating what I felt at the time I was nearly killed. It makes
them deal personally with how sin and evil affect their lives.
Principle: Jesus died for my sins.
I can be safe. On every other day of my life except that one, no one has
fired a gun in my direction! This may sound silly, butwith so much news about
crimeits easy to feel that life is chaotic. Thats not true. God created a
wonderful world for us with much pleasure and joy and happiness. Birds sing,
ice cream tastes great, friends and I laugh and one day Ill go to heaven. God
has a resolution for my sins that is lasting and perfect.
Principle: I can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On mission.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC