The policeman who helped end one of the deadliest school shootings in US history relives the massacre

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How the UT Austin mass shooting unfolded

On a blazing summer day 50 years ago in Texas, a sniper wreaked unprecedented carnage on the campus of the University of Texas.

The gunman climbed the school's iconic Main Building, known as the Tower, packing rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, and other firearms.

He then unleashed a methodical, 96-minute killing spree on the people below, killing 15 and injuring more than 30 others before Austin police shot him dead atop the tower.

The violence that day would be the first of its kind — before Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or Columbine.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the shooting, which was considered the first mass school shooting in American history.

See more from the tragedy that changed American forever:

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These are the weapons used by Charles Joseph Whitman in his mad shooting spree Aug. 1, 1966 in which at least 14 persons were killed and a score more wounded, in Austin, Texas. Police seized the weapons after they gunned down Whitman in his perch in the University of Texas administration building tower. (AP PHOTO)
** FILE ** Smoke rises from a sniper's gun as he fires from the tower of the University of Texas administration building on crowds below in this August 1, 1966, file photo. Until the carnage at Virginia Tech Monday, April 16, 2007, the 1966 sniping rampage by Charles Whitman from the Austin school's landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo)
An Austin policeman fires from a nearby building toward the University of Texas administration tower during the height of the shooting spree by Charles Joseph Whitman on Aug. 1, 1966 in Austin. Whitman was slain by police but not before he had killed at least 14 persons and wounded a score of others. (AP Photo)
One of the victims of Charles Joseph Whitman, the sniper who gunned down victims from a perch in the University of Texas tower, is carried across the campus to a waiting ambulance, Aug. 1, 1966 in Austin. The unidentified victim was gunned down inside the tower, according to police on the scene. (AP Photo)
Crowds gather in front of the administration building at the University of Texas in Austin on August 1, 1966, awaiting the removal of the body of Charles Joseph Whitman, 25, who killed 16 persons before being gunned down by police. Whitman picked off most of his victims from a perch in the tower of the building, center back, high above the campus. (AP Photo)

"People sent me newspaper articles from London, from Sweden. It hit the networks and it was all over the world," Ramiro "Ray" Martinez, one of the officers who gunned down the shooter, told Business Insider.

Martinez, then 29 years old, is the last surviving person among the group that brought the shooter down. He remembers details from that terrifying day to an astonishing degree.

"I was off duty, at home, and I was not supposed to report to duty until 3 o'clock in the afternoon," Martinez said.

"I was watching the news at noon on television. The anchor was handed a note, and he read it, and he said there is a man on top of the University of Texas Tower shooting, and there are unconfirmed reports that some have been injured."

Martinez called the police department and was instructed to help direct traffic around the university. When he arrived, his task had already been covered.

Instead, he went into the tower to help the assault squad he assumed was already inside.

As he approached the tower from the university's south lawn, he got his first look at the carnage unfolding around him.

"I could see a dead man. I could see a woman laying on her back, a pregnant woman, in the hot sun," Martinez said. "I could see other bodies laying there. I don't know if they were dead or wounded. That's when I decided to make a run for the tower."

The shooter, a 25-year-old ex-Marine named Charles Whitman, was an expert marksman, hitting some victims from 500 yards away. Students stranded on the lawn sought refuge behind whatever they could find — trees, parked cars, even a flagpole.

Zigzagging his way across the lawn to avoid becoming the next target, Martinez made it to the tower and took the elevator up to the 26th floor, two floors below the observation deck where Whitman was perched.

"As I was going up, I could hear the shooting from inside the elevator. So I said, 'This is very serious. I may be killed,'" Martinez recalled.

"As a practicing Catholic I was taught to say an act of contrition, atone for your sins in case you don't make it. So I said my prayer, and by that time, I got to the 26th floor and I had my gun out."

When the elevator doors opened, Martinez immediately found himself on the business end of a rifle and a shotgun. Fortunately for him, they were held by Officer Jerry Day and someone who appeared to be a plainclothes officer, named Allen Crum.

Martinez soon realized they were the only policemen in the building.

The team searched the floor and found a group of survivors who had barricaded themselves in an office room.

"One gentleman had a white pair of women's shoes. They were bloody. And he says, "This SOB killed my whole family up there," Martinez said.

Martinez and the plainclothes officer moved to the stairs' first landing and found the victims the man told them about. A teenage boy, dead, with his tongue protruding out — the man's son. A dead woman nearby — his sister-in-law. A severely wounded woman, his wife, whom they had to turn over to keep her from choking on her own blood. And the man's other teenage son, also wounded, who confirmed the shooter was one floor above.

The two policemen moved upstairs and agreed that they would do whatever it took to stop the gunman.

"He says, 'Are we playing for keeps?' I said, 'Damn right we are.' And he said, 'You better deputize me then,'" Martinez recalled during our conversation.

"And that's when I found out he was a civilian. And I said, 'Well, consider yourself deputized."

On the observation deck, the pair split up to opposite corners to find the gunman. Bullets whizzed over their heads and exploded into the brick behind them — students with hunting rifles were trying to pick off the shooter from the ground.

Crum and Martinez were soon joined by Day and another officer, Houston McCoy. Martinez and McCoy crept around the corner of the observation deck together and caught a glimpse of the shooter. From his corner, Crum inadvertently fired his rifle into the wall, distracting the shooter, and providing Martinez the chance to get off a shot.

With McCoy covering him, Martinez fired a round at the shooter, initiating a gunfight.

Martinez fired until his handgun was empty, shouting for McCoy to join him. McCoy fired his shotgun twice at the shooter, hitting him twice in the head. Martinez grabbed McCoy's weapon and fired one final time, hitting the shooter in the shoulder as he slumped to the ground.

Official reports credit McCoy for killing the shooter, though Martinez maintains to this day that he fired the fatal shot.

With the sniper dead, the gravity of the moment began to sink in for Martinez.

"My knees started buckling because my adrenaline stopped pumping, and I became a human again," he said.

In the hours and days that followed, details about the shooter began to emerge.

Whitman was an engineering student at the university. He had a brain tumor, and he had complained to multiple doctors about violent impulses and depression over the previous year. The night before the shooting, he stabbed his wife and mother to death.

At the time, the tower shooting was by far the deadliest school shooting in US history, and it remained so until the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people were killed.

The tower shooting was unlike anything the nation had ever seen. For the survivors, life had changed forever.

"It was surreal. We didn't have mass killings in those days," Herb Ritchie, one of the people barricaded in the office room, told The Houston Chronicle in 2006.

"After that, you never felt the same. You were never safe anywhere or with anybody."

See some of the deadliest mass shootings in US history:

2015 deadliest worldwide mass shootings
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2015 deadliest worldwide mass shootings
Pictures of Wednesday's shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial site Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif. Thousands of employees of San Bernardino County are preparing to return to work Monday, five days after a county restaurant inspector and his wife opened fire on a gathering of his co-workers, killing 14 people and wounding 21. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Police confer at an intersection near the scene of a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colo. A gunman opened fire at the clinic on Friday, authorities said, wounding multiple people. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A woman is being evacuated from the Bataclan theater after a shooting in Paris, Friday Nov. 13, 2015. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Students, staff and faculty are evacuated from Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. after a deadlyshooting Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (Michael Sullivan /The News-Review via AP) 
LAFAYETTE, LA - JULY 23: Lafayette police stand outside of the Grand Theater on July 23, 2015 in Lafayette, Louisiana. Three people are dead and seven more injured after a gunman opened fire inside the Grand Theatre. The gunman, whose identity is being withheld by police, is among the dead. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Chattanooga police talk to Reserve Recruitment Center personnel at the Lee Hwy office as the area is cordoned off with blue shell casing markers in the parking lot on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tenn. At least two military facilities in Tennessee were attacked in shootings Thursday, including one at a Navy recruiting building, officials said. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP) 
Worshippers gather to pray down the street from the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Police forces gather in street outside the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015, after armed gunmen stormed the offices leaving at least 10 people dead according to prosecutors. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

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