Campus Shooting Scare Relived In Surveillance Tapes

Weeks later, it’s still chilling to relive the day a University of Texas student killed himself in a publicly terrifying way by first bringing an assault rifle onto campus and firing rounds in the street. The shooting touched off a panicked emergency response as SWAT teams spent hours searching for a possible second gunman.

The UT Police Department this week gave the public insight into what happened Sept. 28 — first by providing surveillance videos from campus buildings and police, and then by answering questions about what their investigation has found so far.

The motivations of Colton Tooley, the 19-year-old sophomore police now say was a lone gunman, still aren’t clear to investigators. He left no note, UT police chief Robert Dahlstrom said Thursday.

Police say Tooley took a Capital Metro bus from South Austin to campus. He had removed the stock from his AK-47, given to him by his father several months before, so it could be concealed in a backpack. After he hopped off on Guadalupe Street, he changed clothes and ditched his computer.

That computer has provided the only clues investigators say they have as to the gunman’s mental state. He visited some sites “that show maybe he’d been depressed” or was looking for help, Dahlstrom said, although the chief could not specify any sites.

No record of Tooley having visited a UT psychologist, undergoing mental health treatment, or taking any medications has been found, however. He was a good but quiet student and “very much a loner,” Dahlstrom said. And while he had played some computer games that simulated shooting and killing, they were said to be “typical” of games played by 19-year-old men.

Whatever turmoil Tooley may have been feeling inside, he seemed deliberately not to shoot at others, police say.

The 11 rounds he fired were aimed up in the air or down at the ground as he moved along 21st Street from Guadalupe to the Perry-Castañeda Library (where he often spent time and where he ultimately killed himself on the sixth floor).

He waved at the unarmed library security guard on his way in, and when he bumped into one student, police say he went so far as to say, “Excuse me.” 

“There were opportunities where he could’ve shot other people; that’s a very busy part of campus at that time of day. It is my personal thoughts that this young man did not want to hurt other people,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s something his parents said: he cared about people.”

The UTPD received Freedom of Information Act requests for the surveillance footage and 911 calls from the incident, and they were required to comply.

Watching the videos can be unnerving — seeing students running and experiencing again the panic that thousands felt that day. But with the technology available and the public seeking it, Dahlstrom says he had no hesitation about releasing the recordings.

“I really didn’t have any misgivings about putting this out there,” he said. “I think there’s a whole lot of positives and hopefully makes the campus feel better when they see how law enforcement responded. Transparency, I believe, builds trust.”

Photo: Colton Tooley in the yearbook of his South Austin high school. Photo courtesy the Daily Texan.


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