On this day in 1981, Ronald Reagan is shot by a would-be assassin. The President was then leaving an event at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, Reagan’s Secret Service detail moved fast! One agent, Jerry Parr, pushed Reagan down and into a limousine. In the meantime, another agent, Tim McCarthy, threw himself in front of Reagan, in a spread-eagle position. He was trying to turn himself into the biggest possible target, hoping that the President wouldn’t be hit.
Given the chaotic scene, the agents couldn’t prevent Reagan from being shot that day, but they likely did save him from taking a bullet to the head.
Unfortunately, the incident wasn’t without other casualties. D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty and White House Press Secretary James Brady both took bullets. Brady suffered the most serious injury of the four men: He was shot in the head and would be permanently paralyzed.
Reagan later described his own experience of the day:
“I was almost to the car when I heard what sounded like two or three firecrackers over to my left—just a small fluttering sound, pop, pop pop.” He was thrown into the limo and “landed on my face atop the arm rest across the backseat . . . Jerry jumped on top of me.” Reagan was in excruciating pain and thought Parr had broken one of his ribs.
It was more than just a broken rib, of course. Reagan had been shot under his left arm, but the bullet had ricocheted off a rib and into a lung. It had settled less than an inch from his heart.
The shooter, John Hinckley, was found not guilty by the jury, by reason of insanity. He was confined to the federal psychiatric hospital, St. Elizabeth’s in Washington D.C. Hinckley’s decided to shoot the President in order to gain the attention of Jodie Foster, the actress, with whom he had an obsession. His previous attempts to gain her attention, including stalking, had failed, so he thought that by assassinating the President she would finally notice him.
After 35 years confinement in a psychiatric hospital, he was released with stipulations on July 27, 2016. Age 62 years, he is no longer considered a threat, and lives with his mother in Virginia. Asked what he thinks about it, Officer Delahanty said, “That’s their decision, I guess. I’m probably not too enthused with it, but what can you do?”