On August 1, 1966, an off-duty Austin police officer named Ramiro Martinez ended a 96-minute shooting spree on the University of Texas campus, an event since dubbed the city’s darkest hour. Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old University student and ex-Marine, began shooting from the observation deck of the UT Tower at noon, killing 17 people and injuring 31 before Martinez and two other men burst onto the observation deck and shot him.
The long-time Texas Ranger’s first book, They Call Me Ranger Ray: From the UT Tower Sniper to Corruption in South Texas, is a firsthand account of his varied experiences in law enforcement. The book covers Martinez’s career with the APD, his work in narcotics with the Texas Department of Public Safety, time with the Texas Rangers, and a stint as Comal County justice of the peace. As a Texas Ranger, Martinez spent two years investigating political figures in South Texas, which led to almost 120 indictments. He spoke with the Current by phone.
What are some things you’ve enjoyed most in your career?
When I was working in narcotics I did some undercover work in Houston, where I was a specialist in search warrants. Later on I did public relations for the narcotics service; I would go to schools and police departments to give presentations, because at the time, drug problems were beginning to escalate. Growing up in West Texas, discrimination against Hispanics was very prevalent, but I was able to achieve what I wanted to.
Tell me about the day of the UT shootings.
Ramiro “Ray” Martinez
6:30pm Tue, April 18
At the time, I was a patrol officer, but that day I wasn’t supposed to go in to work until 3 p.m. I was off duty, watching the news, and I saw it on TV. I called the police station to see if they needed help, so they sent me to the University area to help control traffic. When I got there, there was absolutely no organized effort; everyone was just shooting from a distance, so I decided to take charge and try to get up to the tower. I didn’t know Crum `a deputized citizen who assisted Martinez` was a civilian until later. He had a rifle; we just covered one another for the last two floors and got up there.
There’s been some debate about who actually killed Whitman. What do you think happened?
The primary concern was to engage the sniper. I shot him first; McCoy `another officer` shot him afterwards. The questions arose from allegations that I got all the credit because I was Hispanic, but that’s not true. How could we determine? Who cares, we both did it, and Crum was also part of the team. There’s no problem; only God knows who actually fired the fatal shot and I couldn’t care less.
What comes into your mind when you think about that today?
It was amazing to me that the police force at UT didn’t organize themselves. There was no organized effort, officers were just doing whatever.
Were you hesitant to make the move?
No, I just considered that it was my job, period, and relied on my training and dedication. Something needed to be done and I did it, I couldn’t worry about it.