There are few people who are not my age or older for whom the name Charles Whitman brings immediate recognition. And yet, in 1966, when I was 9 years old, there would have been few Americans above a certain age who did not know his name, in spite of more primitive media outlets of television, radio, and newspaper.
For one day in 1966, Charles Whitman, age 25, killed his wife and mother in Austin, Texas, and then entered the Tower at the University of Texas, where he attended, killed three people inside, and then from the observation deck of the tower, shot and killed 11 more people and wounded 32 others.
It was the first mass shooting, outside the arena of World War II, that I ever knew anything about.
When the next mass shooting occurred in the United States, I can't tell you. But it feels to me now like it was decades later and I'm pretty sure it took place at a McDonald's, maybe in the 80's. It is more important to me, for this post, that I go with what I remember rather than with any kind of official research. For I am part of this great American society, and I want you to know what it feels like to me.
Since then, we have had, of course, countless shootings, in the North, in the South, in the West, in the Midwest. In post offices, in government buildings, at political rallies, on army bases, in schools. In movie theaters. And in more schools. Columbine, Virginia Tech, where else? Where is next?
If you are a fan of the show, Criminal Minds, which I occasionally watch, then you know two things. First, if you follow the show week to week, you know that there are an unlimited supply of serial killers in this country, those whom we've had run-ins with and those who operate more anonymously until they do something that calls them to the attention of the criminal specialists on the show. And that is where the second thing you know comes in: that a serial killer, over time, "speeds up."
Speeding up is the concept that over time a serial killer's kills come closer and closer together, that although he may have started out slowly, spreading out those first, tentative kills over a number of years (or decades), eventually as he reaches frution (and I'm using the male pronoun because serial killers tend to be male), he must kill more and more frequently in order to get the same feeling of power and control and superiority. And that underlying desire to be caught.