March 30, 1981 — Shots from a .22 Röhm RG-14 revolver ring out just outside the Hilton Hotel in D.C., just as President Ronald Reagan and his entourage are exiting the building. Press Secretary James Brady is struck in the head first, dropping immediately. The second round strikes the neck of Thomas Delahanty, D.C. police officer, who also falls to the ground.
At this point, there is no one standing between the would-be assassin and the sitting president of the United States. In a fraction of a second, Secret Service agents push the president out of the way, just as the gun is being fired for a third and fourth time. The third round flies high and misses entirely. Tim McCarthy of the Secret Service, knowing that he was not wearing a bulletproof vest, steps in front of the president and takes the fourth bullet — it strikes him in the abdomen and he goes down. The last two rounds of the revolver are fired and they slam into the limousine just as Reagan is being swept away by his agents.
However, the very last shot had ricocheted off the limousine’s armored exterior, and hit the president in the side right before he could be safely secured inside the vehicle. He bullet bounces around inside in body, stopping just an inch from Reagan’s heart. Though he was almost killed in the attempt, doctors would save his life in the George Washington University Hospital. He became the first U.S. President to survive actually being shot in an assassination attempt (Theodore Roosevelt was shot in 1912, after his presidency was finished).
Eleven days later, Officer Delahanty, who had been hit in the neck, famously said “I feel good … I’m ready to go.” Unfortunately, the damage was significant enough that it ended his career in the Metropolitan Police Department, and he medically retired. Tim McCarthy was awarded the NCAA Award of Valor, and is now the Chief of Police in Orland Park, Illinois. Press Secretary James Brady suffered the most serious wound, which would permanently disable him. 33 years later, he would die and his death would be ruled a homicide, as it was a product of wounds received on March 30, 1981.
President Reagan would later say (included in the video below) that he did not know that he was shot until he was well inside the vehicle. This is actually quite common, for a commotion to begin, shots to be fired, adrenaline pumping, violent movement here and there — many don’t know they are shot until minutes later.
Reagan recounts the assassination attempt:
John Hinckley, the would-be assassin, was later found not-guilty by the jury, by reason of insanity. They insisted he needed treatment, and would be confined to the federal psychiatric hospital, St. Elizabeths in Washington D.C. The assassination attempt all stemmed from Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster, beginning with her performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and he eventually turned into a stalker. After all his failed attempts to garner the reaction and/or relationship he desired from Foster, he thought that assassinating a sitting president would finally equalize the two, and he would have her attention.
After long confinement to the psychiatric hospital, he was released under certain stipulations on 27 July, 2016. He is now 62 years old and is no longer considered a threat to himself or others, and he lives with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. To this end, Officer Delahanty said in his matter-of-fact fashion, “That’s their decision, I guess. I’m probably not too enthused with it, but what can you do?”
Watch AP’s story on John Hinckley here:
President Reagan and the secret service agents as the shots are fired:
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.