Grave marker ends mystery that lasted nearly 50 years after UT Tower shooting
The shot came from out of the blue and so did the answer to a mystery that lasted nearly 50 years.
"I just remember a jolt and Tom saying, 'baby, what's wrong?'" Claire Wilson James said.
Tower shooter Charles Whitman put an 18-year-old Claire Wilson in his crosshairs on August 1, 1966. Claire was 8 months pregnant.
"I didn't know where I was shot at first," Claire said. "I thought I was shot in the arm."
Claire was shot in the stomach. Then Whitman turned his rifle on her boyfriend, Thomas Eckman.
"We were both falling," Claire said. "I had no idea what it was."
Tom died almost instantly by her side and Claire lay there bleeding in the hot Texas sun for the next 90-minutes as the terror continued.
"I remember just being very calm and it being very quiet after a while," Claire said.
And she'll never forget what the sky looked like that day. "It was just so blue," Claire said. "I thought I was going to die there."
Claire survived after three months in the hospital. She remembers only asking about her baby once. "I said you know, 'how was he?'" Claire said. "'Was he ok?' I had some fear he like had some deformity or something and he said, 'oh, he was perfect. He was just a perfect little baby.'"
Then the dreams came. "I would dream that I had my baby and he's like under 2," Claire said. "And he's there and I turn away for a minute and he's gone."
That dream would haunt her for the next four decades. "I didn't search constantly but it never left my mind," Gary Lavergne said. "I wanted to find that little boy."
Author Gary Lavergne wrote A Sniper in the Tower in 1997 and over the years he became friends with Claire.
No one ever talked about it but Gary secretly wanted find out what happened to her little boy. "I looked," Gary said. "I searched."
Then he started research on another book. He was looking through the burial records at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery and decided to start from the bottom up.
"The Zs, the Ys and I got to the Ws and that's when I saw and entry, 'Baby Boy Wilson,' buried August 2, 1966," Gary said. "I said to myself that could be it."
Then he went to the cemetery to look at the original burial documents and confirmed the connection to Claire. "I cried like a child and it still gets to me," Gary said.
Then he shared the news with his friend. "I was given a gift," Gary said. "I was able to tell somebody what happened to their little boy after 48 years. I'm not used to that."
Then with Claire's permission Gary's family made a headstone for her baby. It reads, "Baby Boy Wilson, August 1, 1966."
"It was just a very beautiful thing," Claire said. "(I) just laid down on top of the grave, prayed. (I) had a really good conversation with God and it was a very beautiful thing Gary and his children did for me."