1960’s Sniper Rampage Leads To Formation Of The First SWAT Team

Birth of SWAT

On August 1, 1966, in Austin, Texas, honor student Charles Joseph Whitman took a high-powered rifle and shot and killed more than a dozen victims at random. The shooting spree also injured more than 30 people in the University of Texas Clock Tower Building in Austin.

He was dubbed the Teas Tower Sniper. This incident is known in many law enforcement circles as the incident that led to the creation of our modern-day SWAT teams.

The Shooting Spree

At 11:00 a.m., Charles Whitman impersonated a maintenance worker and went up via the elevator to the 27th floor. On his way up, he killed a maintenance worker. Once he got up to the floor, he set up with his weapons.

Whitman had packed three rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, two handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a 5-gallon container of water, some sandwiches, and a can of gasoline. He was prepared for war.

His campus killing spree began with him shooting a black male on a bicycle and a girl in the head. He even shot a pregnant woman in the stomach. Her unborn eight-month-old child died.

His indiscriminate shooting continued as he shot people as they peeked their heads out doors and windows to see what was causing the commotion. If first responders tried to help the wounded victims, he could shoot them as soon as they got within range of the victims.

Officers Onsite

Police officers were called as Whitman was in the tower shooting at people. When they arrived they found themselves unable to do anything. They could not get close to him or his victims.

Unfortunately, since such incidents never happened, there were no real protocols or plans in place to handle this type of situation. Even flyovers failed as Whitman shot at the airplanes.

The officers onsite finally decided to use the underground tunnels that ran throughout the campus to get to the tower and take out Whitman. Officers used walkie-talkies to communicate Whitman’s location.

As they walked toward him, he turned to fire at them. One officer shot him with his gun six times, while another shot him with a shotgun. After this incident, police departments began forming teams to handle this type of situation. LAPD was the first to use the term SWAT.

The first unit had 15 four-man teams, all with military training and specialized experience.

Source: Paulding County Sheriff’s Office




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