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Attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan (1981)

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Reagan attempted assassination 1981

Reagan attempted assassination 1981

Gunman wounds Reagan, 3 others

Titusville Herald (Titusville, PA) – March 31, 1981

Washington — President Reagan was wounded in the chest Monday by a gunman who tried to assassinate him with a burst of .22-caliber bullets from a “Saturday night special.” White House press secretary James S Brady was critically injured in the blaze of gunfire.

Reagan “sailed through surgery” according to doctors, who said he’d be ready to make presidential decisions by Tuesday.

But Brady was said to be fighting for his life, a bullet through his brain.

Dr Dennis O’Leary said “a really mangled bullet” was removed from Reagan’s left lung. He said the president’s condition was stable, the prognosis excellent.

“Honey, I forgot to duck,” Reagan told his wife as he was wheeled into surgery. Then he told the doctors he hoped they were Republicans.

Two lawmen also were wounded in the mid-afternoon blaze of gunfire outside a Washington hotel where Reagan had just addressed a union convention. They were reported in serious condition but apparently not in danger.

A youthful, sandy-haired gunman from suburban Denver was wrestled into handcuffs and arrested moments after he leveled his pistol at the president and fired from near point blank range.

There was no known motive, for the savage burst of gunfire that exploded as the president stood beside his limousine, ready to step inside for a rainy, one-mile ride back to the White House.

One eyewitness said the assailant, standing ten feet from the president, “just opened up and continued squeezing the trigger.”

Anxious hours later, Reagan was pronounced in good and stable condition after surgery.

“I can reassure this nation and a watching world that the American government is functioning fully and effectively,” Vice President George Bush said at the White House Monday night. “We’ve had full and complete communication throughout the day.”

O’Leary described Reagan as “clear of head” and said he “should be able to make decisions by tomorrow, certainly.”

O’Leary served as spokesman for two surgeons who operated on Reagan at George Washington University Hospital. They made a six-inch incision to remove the bullet that had penetrated about three inches into his left lung, missing his heart by several inches.

Reagan’s lung collapsed, and the surgeons inserted two chest tubes to restore it.

They gave him blood transfusions, about 2 1/2 quarts in all, to replace the blood he lost.

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The wounded president walked into the hospital, “alert and awake” if a bit lightheaded, O’Leary said. At 70, the doctor said, Reagan “is physiologically very young.”

“He was never in any serious danger,” O’Leary said.

But Brady was.

“His condition is critical,” the doctor said. He was shot in the side of the forehead, the bullet passing through his brain. “He obviously has significant brain injury and he is in critical condition,” O’Leary reported.

He would not speculate on Brady’s chances of recovery, but said it is likely Brady, 40, will suffer permanent brain damage if he survives.

Reagan attempted assassination 1981

It began suddenly.

At 2:25 pm, EST, six shots rang out, one hitting Reagan in the left chest, others felling Brady, a Secret Service agent and a policeman. Secret Service agents and police seized John Warnock Hinckley, 25, of Evergreen, Colorado.

He was wrestled to the ground outside the Washington Hilton, pinned against a wall and taken away. Hinckley was booked on charges of attempted assassination of a president, and of assault with intent to kill a police officer. He was in FBI custody Monday night.

Roger Young of the FBI described the weapon as a “Saturday night special” and said it was purchased at a Dallas gun shop.

Young, the FBI spokesman, said there had been “no problem” with Hinckley’s coherence when questioned by authorities.

Hinckley was arrested last Oct 9 at the Nashville airport for carrying handguns. The FBI said he was carrying three weapons that day — while then-President Carter was making a campaign appearance in the city.

O’Leary and Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger both said President Reagan would be able to handle the decision-making duties of his job Tuesday.

Nofziger said there was no consideration of turning the duties of the office over to Bush under the constitutional provision for presidential disability.

Suspected assailant a troubled young man

Madison Wisconsin State Journal – March 31, 1981

John Warnock Hinckley Jr, arrested Monday in an attempt on the life of President Reagan, recently had been under psychiatric care and had been arrested while carrying handguns in Nashville, Tennessee, on a day former President Jimmy Carter visited the city.

A former classmate said Hinckley was “not a flamboyant type” when they attended a suburban Dallas high school and “certainly not the type” to shoot a president.

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But little was known about Hinckley’s activities in the years after high school — except sporadic attendance at Texas Tech University — and hints emerged Monday of a troubled man and his weapons.

John-Hinckley-Jr-mugshotThe head of a neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Party of America, said Hinckley was a party member who quit in 1979 because “he felt that we were not sufficiently militant for him.”

“We agreed mutually NSPA was not his cup of tea. He wanted us to go out and commit unlawful acts. We sort of carried on a debate about it,” said Harold Covington of Raleigh, NC.

Roger Young, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said the weapon used to shoot the president and three others was a .22-caliber “Saturday night special” purchased at a Dallas gun shop.

Young said there had been “no problem” with the suspect’s coherence when questioned by authorities. Young refused to elaborate on a possible motive for the shooting.

In Evergreen, Colorado, attorney Jim Robinson said in a statement from the suspect’s parents that young John Hinckley has been under recent psychiatric care.

“His evaluation did not alert anyone to the seriousness of his condition,” the statement said. Robinson added that Hinckley’s parents were “heartbroken,” but would stand by their son.

Hinckley, 25, is a son of Denver businessman JW “Jack” Hinckley, president of Vanderbilt Energy Corp, an oil and gas exploration company. The family moved to Colorado in 1974. Hinckley was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, according to hospital officials there.

FBI and police in Evergreen initially said Hinckley had no known criminal record. However, the FBI later confirmed he was arrested Oct 9 in Nashville, Tennessee, while carrying three handguns.

Four days after that incident, Hinckley bought two .22-caliber revolvers at Rocky’s Pawn Shop in downtown Dallas.

Hinckley entered Texas Tech University at Lubbock in the fall of 1973 as a business administration student. School officials said he last attended the school in the spring and first semester of 1980.

The Texas Department of Public Safety listed Hinckley’s birthday as May 29, 1955, although initial Secret Service reports listed it as May 29, 1958.

The 1973 high school yearbook listed Hinckley as a member of the Spanish Club, the Student Government Club and the Rodeo Club.

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