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Austin Chronicle Sidebar: The Eyewitness: Gail Douglas

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  Gail Douglas, an insurance agent based in DeSoto, Texas, was a business major at UT at the time of the shootings. He recalls the campus prior to the debacle as "a delightful place to go to school. There was a safe feeling, a typical college town. "There was the beginning of a great deal of debate, used to have a thing called `stump speaking' where people would debate on the mall. UT encouraged dissent, very open to debate."

On the day in question, Douglas "was in class in the basement of the Business Building about 11:30 am. We heard loud sounds -- like someone stacking lumber. A student ducked his head in the door -- `Don't go out on the mall, somebody's shooting on the tower.' The professor gamely tried to keep teaching for about five minutes, but the sounds kept up and he finally dismissed class.

"A fraternity brother of mine, John Phelps, and I went to the top floor of the Business Building --then the next tallest building to the tower on campus, I think -- to get an observation point to watch what was going on. We were scared.

"Texas Rangers came into the office next to us -- we didn't know they were there. They fired at Whitman, [causing a loud report in the enclosed space.] They couldn't continue because of the loud noise.

"John Phelps and I then accompanied the Rangers to the top of the building. As I recall we carried boxes of ammo for them. We then hid behind air conditioning units and watched people return fire. We never had any gunfire directed at us because of the return fire at the tower.

"Finally, we saw a white flag being waved on the tower. We went down. I went over to the tower and milled around with a large crowd on the steps to the tower from the south. After about an hour they started bringing out the bodies.

"I didn't know anyone who was killed.

"Without a doubt, I think he was deranged.

"The ironic thing is I then took a job in a town outside of Akron, Ohio in a town called Wadsworth, and went to Business Graduate School at Kent State where I was enrolled in 1970 when the kids were killed there."

Happily, Mr. Douglas wasn't in class that day.

-- T.A.

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