Just over four decades ago, John Hinckley, Jr., pulled a gun and nearly killed Ronald Reagan. This month he's being released from the last vestiges of government oversight stemming from that assassination attempt:
John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot and nearly killed President Ronald Reagan in 1981, is set to be unconditionally released from court-ordered psychiatric supervision on June 15, after federal prosecutors, mental health professionals and Hinckley's legal team told a judge on Wednesday that they have no concerns about his mental state.
Hinckley, now 67, shot at Reagan as the president was exiting a Washington hotel on March 30, 1981, puncturing a lung and causing severe internal bleeding. Three others were also wounded. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982, and remained hospitalized until 2006. He was allowed to live with his mother in 2016.
Hinckley's mother lives in Williamsburg, VA, where he will presumably continue to reside.
Reagan's assassination is a familiar part of American history, but the nitty-gritty details of that day are worth exploring, in particular how Hinckley exploited a casual lapse in presidential security to get close enough to nearly kill the president:
The Secret Service had extensively screened those attending the president's speech, but greatly erred by allowing an unscreened group to stand within 15 ft (4.6 m) of him, behind a rope line. The agency uses multiple layers of protection; local police in the outer layer briefly check people, Secret Service agents in the middle layer check for weapons, and more agents form the inner layer immediately around the president. Hinckley penetrated the first two layers.
In the utter chaos of the shooting, Reagan came within literally an inch of death, saved only by a very fortunate rapid-fire sequence of events involving both government security agents and at least one bystander.
Press secretary James Brady, meanwhile, was severely wounded:
The first round hit White House press secretary James Brady in the head above his left eye, passing through underneath his brain and shattering his brain cavity; the small explosive charge in the round exploded on impact. District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty recognized the sound as a gunshot and turned his head sharply to the left to identify the shooter. As he did so, he was struck in the back of his neck by the second shot, the bullet ricocheting off his spine. Delahanty fell on top of Brady, screaming "I am hit!". Hinckley now had a clear shot at the president, but Alfred Antenucci, a Cleveland, Ohio, labor official who was standing nearby, saw Hinckley fire the first two shots, hit him in the head, and began to wrestle him to the ground. Upon hearing the shots, Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr almost instantly grabbed Reagan by the shoulders and dove with him toward the open rear door of the limousine. Agent Ray Shaddick trailed just behind Parr to assist in throwing both men into the car.
Hinckley fired three more times; all six of his shots missed the president directly, though the final shot ended up nearly killing him:
The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine, passed between the space of the open rear door and vehicle frame, and hit the president in the left underarm. The round grazed a rib and lodged in his lung, causing it to partially collapse before stopping less than an inch (25 mm) from his heart.
Reagan arrived at George Washington University Hospital shortly thereafter; he nearly died, losing over half of his blood volume during the emergency surgery that followed.
If all of that sounds like a lot going on at once, raw video of the assassination attempt demonstrates just how absurdly fast these things happen, and how quickly one can be brought to the brink of death:
Ever the joker, Reagan found a moment at death's door to crack wise:
In the operating room, Reagan removed his oxygen mask to joke, "I hope you are all Republicans." The doctors and nurses laughed, and [Dr. Joseph] Giordano, a Democrat, replied, "Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans."
That's the Gipper for you!
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