Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

The President is Shot

In his first term, the president was scheduled to make a luncheon speech before the AFL-CIO on March 30, 1981, at a Washington, D.C., Hilton. Reagan, often called The Great Communicator, spoke to about 3,500 union delegates.

Then, accompanied by Secret Service and aides, the president walked out of the ballroom and through the lobby. He was on his way to a waiting limousine and waving at the friendly crowd of reporters and onlookers when a young man went into a shooter's crouch, both hands on his weapon, and fired.

He got off six shots in three seconds. Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy instantly jumped in front of the president. But he sank when he caught a bullet in the belly. Another agent, Jerry Parr, grabbed the president and pushed him down behind the opened rear door of the limousine just before a bullet smashed into the vehicle's bulletproof window.

President Reagan during the shooting, pushed by Agent Jerry Parr (AP)
President Reagan during the shooting,
pushed by Agent Jerry Parr (AP)

Only the sixth and last bullet found Reagan, striking his armpit and tunneling into his chest. The president felt a sharp pain but thought it was only from Parr pushing him so hard. He looked at Parr and made a feeble joke: "You sonofabitch, you broke my rib" just as the limousine raced away from the scene.

Press Secretary James Brady lies wounded (AP)
Press Secretary James Brady lies wounded

That scene was described by James W. Clarke in On Being Mad or Merely Angry as "bedlam. Amid the hysterical screams of bystanders, wailing sirens, and shouts of Secret Service agents and police attempting to gain control of the situation, Tim McCarthy lay doubled up on the sidewalk, hands clutching the bullet wound in his stomach; a few feet away police officer Tom Delahanty writhed in agony from a neck wound; next to him lay presidential press secretary Jim Brady, the first to fall, his face flattened against the sidewalk, arms twitching incongruously at his sides, blood trickling into a storm grate from a pea-sized bullet hole over his left eye."

A Secret Service agent overpowered the shooter, coming down on top of the overweight young man and wrestling him to the ground. The president's attacker continued clicking on the emptied gun until his hand was disabled.

Soon newspapers filled with headlines about the shooting while the videotape was seen on TV sets in homes across America and throughout the world. Condolences streamed to the White House from across the globe.

First reports were reassuring, at least concerning Reagan. The president underwent a successful operation and would soon be able to resume his duties.

Ever jovial, Reagan relied on humor to carry him through. When his wife arrived at the hospital just as he was being readied for surgery, he whispered to her, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Through tubes in his mouth, he rasped, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." Just before he lost consciousness, he said to the operating team, "Please tell me you're Republicans."

James S. Brady, shooting victim and sponsor of the Brady Bill to restrict hand gun purchases (AP)
James S. Brady, shoot-
ing victim and sponsor
of the Brady Bill to re-
strict hand gun pur-
chases (AP)
Tom Delahanty and Tim McCarthy were expected to survive. Doctors feared Jim Brady might not be as lucky. An exploding Devastator bullet had hit his brain. It was touch and go for a long time. Finally, physicians announced that he would live but be permanently impaired. Brady was paralyzed and would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Attention focused on the shooter. His name was John Warnock Hinckley Jr. It soon became known that he had no political motivation. Rather, he was trying to impress a woman — actress Jodie Foster.

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