tv American Artifacts Reagan Assassination Attempt CSPAN August 27, 2021 3:31am-4:03am EDT
on march 30th 1981 a would-be assassin fired six shots at president ronald reagan outside the washington hilton hotel two miles from the white house. washington post reporter del wilber author of rawhide down the near assassination of ronald reagan met us on the sidewalk with a shooting took place to tell his story of that day. ronald reagan was leaving this hotel after delivering a speech the afl-cio reagan a longtime union man himself over again. it's kind of excited to give this speech. he actually rewrote it by hand.
to 25 226 227 he emerges from this this entrance behind this area. this is new they built this after the shooting. it's a bunker and if you look inside over here, you'll see the entrance the door a steel door. where the president emerged in and laughed they built this actually this entrance. especially for the president when they built this hotel in the 1960s, they built this wonderful grand ballroom, and they knew that for vips. they're going to want their own secure special interests. so they built it right here ease of access for limousines. now, what's interesting about it is if you look up here and you'll see the driveway the curving driveway. the architects didn't consult the secret service in building the entrance and so they realize a secret service if they came up this way stopped here and kept
driving up if they just left the limit here for the president to come in and go the limousine would get stuck up there in the curves because it was so hulking and all there was a police car always stationed up there to prevent people from coming down and by doing that if the cop like didn't get to the car started and they often still stalled out back then they couldn't get away and they could get trapped up there in an attack. and so what they'd have to do is they'd leave the president here back the limousine around back it up and park it right around here. now. this sidewalk is smaller than it was then but right about where the curve is, they'd they back the limousine up like this. so the limousine is facing out towards t street. this is t street. the limousine is facing this way the back door is open now. what's cool about the back doors. this is a lincoln continental in this limousine armored lincoln continental and that 13,000 pounds, you know, stop, you know tank rifle round or something. this was a 72 lincoln. they stopped making those backward doors and the sick late 60s, and i haven't been able to figure out why they would have the backward opening doors
whatever but the agents called them suicide doors and the reason they called them suicide doors is because if they ever left them open when they drove they would rip them off. they wouldn't close and so they had to make sure the doors were always closed. so they park right there. now this had an attendant risk right by doing it this way. the president would be out in the open now at around two o'clock 1:30 about that time john hinckley in colorado. he was obsessed with jodie foster. we all know infinitely obsessed with jodie foster hinckley is a really strange character and i tried to write him in the most balanced way possible. people differ on whether he was really insane at that moment. the jury decided that he was he had an obsession with jodie foster and it had started a few years earlier in 1976. he saw the movie taxi driver and he began to fantasize about jodie foster and his life began to kind of mirror travis bickle. who was the main character in taxi driver the movie a very violent film where bickel is a taxi driver a former army vet
who wants to kill a presidential candidate to impress a woman he admires so he starts focusing on jodie foster played a prostitute in that movie. and over time it becomes more and more obsessive and he realizes in his mind and his mind he wants to impress her and he thinks the only way i can impress her would be to shoot the presidency united states. and so we he hangs out at blair house some during the transition period in 1980 in 19 early 1981 stalking the president watching the president elect. he actually stopped carter. in october he was in october 1980. he was in. dayton, ohio, and he got with an armed reach of the president, but he didn't bring his guns with him. he left them in luggage at the bus station. and he regretted that and so he'd been stalking presidents and stuff and he's actually in la he takes a bus across country arrives the day before the shooting. and at that moment. in the documents i read and the people of interviewed him the doctor psychiatrist hechological reports. he hasn't made up his mind to kill or shoot the president. he doesn't even know the
president is in town. but he wants to take a bus from dc to new haven to get foster and he's envisioning killing himself killing her killing both of them in this -- of violence. and he finally he eats breakfast the morning of the shooting. he's at the park central hotel and he buys a copy of the washington star newspaper and he flips it open on page a4. there's the president's schedule. and there he is at the hilton. he says, you know what? i'm gonna take my my little gun my 22 caliber. and go up there and see and see how close i can get and what can happen and he's waiting right over there behind a rope line about 15 feet past where the open door is for the limousine. has a 22 caliber blower gun in his pocket. it's it's loaded with devastator bullets, which are tipped with lead eyeside. and lead aside is an explosive a high explosive. so they blow when they hit things. and so he's sitting there waiting waiting waiting reagan comes out hinkley can't believe he's just close. he's 15 feet from the president. the agents are surrounding them. they're three cops at the rope line another agent right there.
hinckley pulls out his gun and he envisions himself dying in a burst of gunfire the seek, you know suicide by cop suicide by secret service agent and he starts shooting. guys there's a wealth of documentary material from this day that explains what happened. there's a lot of video three networks shot video of it. there's still photographs and the best they're two groups are really great. still photographs one was taken by ron edmonds the white house photographer for ap. it was his fourth day as the white house photographer for ap and he was around here somewhere. he shoots over the limousine and has the the great shot of par throwing reagan into the car. then you have the white house photographer who's trailing reagan in this area? and he's shooting pictures.
that way and by doing using those two pictures you got to get a sense of what's happened you watch the video, but still all true dimensional in the fbi reports that i dug up in this there's some great diagrams that kind of map out where everything is and you know, they laid it out with tape, you know measurements and stuff. that was very helpful. and i've come here a few times but coming here is kind of difficult because if you notice this thing obviously wasn't here that day this they built after to protect the president. and then you have the little gardening area is new and i'm totally put that in actually to keep spectators away from the wall where hinckley was and the sidewalk is shorter. and so he's like right here and he sees reagan right about there. so where is reagan reagan is right about where you're standing right there. so this far away. yeah, that's about 15 feet. that's about the they say it the 15 feet.
they've measured it and reagan was 15 feet from hinckley when the shots were fired, but if you go to a basketball court any basketball court in the country and you get on the free-for-line for line and you look at it. you know, it's just the distance of a free throw. that's how close he was. that's 15 feet. i also got the secret service did there are a lot of great reports they did on this they interviewed all the agents who were there in a lot of witnesses and i foiled those and got those so i was able to know what everyone said they did and that usually kind of matched up with what the the video and the picture showed and that was helpful. it was also helpful to get in their heads of what was happening. i interviewed them all too. and i also got the some fbi reports. for example, there's a great fbi port no one has seen reagan's fbi interview shortly after the shooting he gave an interview the fbi agents that was sealed and i got it unsealed through my four year process and reagan was coming out. he said he was coming out here and he saw the reporters, but he wasn't gonna talk the press and you can infer from that that the reason he didn't want to talk to
the press. he kind of made some stumbles and they wanted to keep him more on message in that period before and so he wasn't going to answer any impromptu questions. it just wasn't worth it to him. he also said if hinckley had only waited because he was going to get on the he was gonna climb onto the running board of the limousine raise himself up and wave to a group of about 200 spectators around the street. his back would have been in the president as he waved. i mean back would have been to hinckley as he waved but hinckley didn't wait hinckley started shooting. it is 2:27 pm. and we know it's 2:27 pm because the moment the gunfire ends. secret service station calls on the radio to the headquarters his secret service headquarters at the white house. and an agent there looks up at their clock and finds out it's too in notes that it's exactly 2:27 pm. so he shoots. he stood six shots the first one hits jim brady the press secretary in the head. he falls down the second one hits tom delahanty. who's a dc police officer who had turned around to check on the president's progress you get hit in the back falls down
screams. i'm hit hit the ground now the path of the president is clear. it's wide open hinckley has an effective range of 20 to 30 feet. he has he's done target practice. he can hit stationary targets 20 to 30 feet. jerry parr the lead secret service agent reagan's lead secret service station meanwhile in four tenths of a second. i've tried to time it. it's very difficult, but about four tenths of a second has grabbed the president united states the moment. he hears the gunfire. thrusts and behind tim mccarthy, who is now another secret service agents who swiveled his body takes a bullet in the in the chest. the first bullet hits brady the second one hits delahenty the third one flies over reagan's head and lodges in a window of that building across the street. they actually recover it. there's a kind of a cool photo of the little bullet hole in one of those lobby windows. the fourth one hits mccarthy who's turned like this to take the bullet. he's not wearing a bulletproof vest hits him right in the chest benzem around just as they're behind them jerry park credits. tim mccarthy was helping save the president's life for that moment the next bullet hits the window of the the armored limo window. so the bulletproof window just
as you could see the president flashing behind it with jerry park pushing him in the limousine. in the sixth one cracks across the parking lot. no one knows where that one went at that moment. then jerry park gets him in the limo. someone slams the door shut the driver of the limo drew unru former army veteran, you know real stressful job driving. the presidency said not because you're worried about situations like this, but you're always worried about dropping off the president at the wrong entrance or something. it's hugely embarrassing. you never live it down, but it's a very stressful job driving the president is waiting waiting waiting because he could hear the shots through the open door if the door have been closed he wouldn't have been able to hear the shots because it's so heavily played in shuts the door. he's like i gotta get out of you. he's going but he's in his mind. he's really worried because he'd seen his buddy tim mccarthy followed the ground and he didn't want to run over a tim mccarthy with a 13,000 pound limousine would probably kill him. and so they drive away and the head straight out this way towards connecticut avenue at that moment. what they didn't know at the time was hinckley's final shot the sixth one had ricocheted off the back quarter panel of limousine. actually, they recovered the
black paint and match it to the limousine off the bullet that was removed from the president. and as reagan's diving it hits him right here on this side right around here. and lodges an intramus heart we're gonna get in a taxi and follow the ride of the limousine. and and you think this is roughly the way it was parked. this was roughly pretty close. it was was this direction like this. out there towards t street and the rear door the rear part of the limo was almost touching the sidewalk. remember the sidewalk is smaller here than it actually was so right about here is probably where the door was. alright, so you're gonna go out here and you're gonna make a left-down connecticut and then you're gonna make a right on, you know, continue, connecticut down 17th street and then make make a right on, pennsylvania. you do that. so pain is the picture inside the limo while we're driving here. all right, so jerry par the agent, you know looks out the window and sees there's a pockmark on the that door and that window where the bullet has your window. and he also notices the three guys down the sidewalk as they
pull away he goes now. this is bad. there's been a shooting he props raking up in the seat. you're in props him up, but kind of like this reagan's kind of like this a like a tired basketball player. and he runs his body or inside his joke coat pack coat and his hands through his hair to check see if there's any blood and there's no blood. he feels pretty good and he tells the driver to tell on his radio because jerry parr has lost his radio it bust off from a sleeve mic in the melee. he lost his transponder and so he can't use his radio to tell everyone what they're doing. so he tells drew and rue to use the the microphone here to radio down to headquarters that they're heading back to white house. actually, they used the code word crown and he takes the radio from drew and ruins as rawhide is okay rawhide is okay rawhide is ronald reagan's code name. that's where i got the the title of the book from you wanna go to hospital back back to the white house?
going to crown. master the white house back to the white house rawhide is okay. and so they're heading back now towards the white house. and drew and rue is flying the driver of the museum. just hurdling down, connecticut avenue. close to traffic there wouldn't be traffic here in 1981 on march 30th, because they had closed the streets for the limousines ride expected ride back. now at about as they're driving along and now remember the limousines alone, they have no support they've left the motorcade behind. the follow-up car the armored follow-up car two guys brandishing uzis on it finally catches up behind them and the spare limousine which has the president's position in it, and another agent finally gets up near them too. and so they're going along the police cars are starting to now follow up in the police motorcycles are getting ahead of limousine. and as they're going through about right about here. jerry part realizes that something's wrong with the president because he's having trouble breathing.
he says mental breathing. i don't know. what's wrong. are you having a heart attack? is it your heart and you know, reagan says i don't think so and then he starts dabbing blood from his lipsense. right and frothy blood and from pars training. he knows that that means it's oxygen. it's probably from the lungs. that isn't good. and so jerry parr has to make a call, you know this guy. line, they have a medical facility at the white house. it's the most secure place in the world. he doesn't know if it's world war iii, or you can go to the hospital, but if he goes to the hospital and reagan's not hurt, you know that could set off a major economic crisis. this is what's going through his mind. these are heavy questions. and he says, you know what? i can't risk it. i got to go to the hospital which by the way had no agents at it. there was no security there. so i mean there could have been other assassins in the city waiting for the president there. he makes that call and they head to the hospital. they're gonna go to the hospital so they get on the radiance and say we're going to george washington in emergency room, and you know, let's get there fast and par even gets on the radiation said, let's hustle. you roger we want to go to
emergency room of george washington. that's the rider. for the george, washington fast right you you because he can't say on the radio reagan tour. they don't use reagan's name. they don't want they know people in assassins and news media can be listening to the open radio communications, hence. they used the phone names. and so they abandoned crown the white house, but go. to the hospital now about this time marion gordon who's in kind of an unsung hero this day. she's a one of the few female agents in the secret service. she's she was she devised the motorcade that day and routes and she even drove the routes to the hilton into the hospital to the white house and she want to make sure all the rats were clear there wasn't blockages. it's you know, they want to make
sure they new everyone everyone was going during ruid driven motorcade to the hilton not too long before that. so he knew all the routes and he didn't have to practice them. but he already knew them and so they're heading down and marion gordon realizes she doesn't have a radio to communicate with the police cars there now in front she realizes you know, what, and she's in the front right seat of spare limousine arm and limousine and she goes you know, what these eight these cars. these cops are going to keep going the white house because they don't know where we're going. they were on the white house. we better get up in front of the of the presidential limousine right now. so she tells the driver you better get, you know, get in front of that the presidential limousine because if he's going to lose his at police escort in a few seconds, and we cannot have she didn't want drone rude to get you know, there's a lot going on this car. he's a lot to do. she didn't want him to have to think about how to get to the hospital and she wanted to be a battering ram. they didn't know what was going on in the world, you know as i've said before, you know, they don't know if there are other people working again. and so she needs to make sure if there's a car that gets in front of limousine. she has to take that hit not the
president and meanwhile in the president's condition. he seemed to be having a harder time breathing and reagan himself said it felt like someone to hit him with a hammer. he felt so bad someone hit him in the back with a hammer and he was just struggling and struggling to breathe. all right, so here is really interesting, right? so they're driving down here and the spare limousines in front. they start making this is a hard pivot to make right because it's an ang. great mean while the police cars keep going and i got the dc police tapes. they weren't that helpful, but they're amazing. you can hear a guy go on donald bell who was a sergeant and one of the lead cars goes my god, they've turned into the hospital. they turned to the hospital and they start going this way. they're going along. they're heading toward the circle. and drew and rue the driver asked jerry parr. do we want to go the wrong way around the circle to get there faster. he doesn't say you get there faster. we want to go the wrong way around the circle and jerry's like no. no, we want to go around because jerry didn't want to hit any oncoming traffic have been too. --. it would be too dangerous the old hospital now. is at 20 second, it was a big world war ii era bunker building. really ugly?
that's the new hospital. in fact, that's where my two sons were born at that hospital. they run around the circle and they pull in to the emergency room and reagan they drive up the limo pulls up part jumps out. reagan indicates to par but i want to get out of my own. i don't need a handout. i don't need to be carry. he comes out and reagan par is going through all he wants to be a cowboy, you know, so reagan gets up walks out heches up his pants even to get him right walks the door everyone follows him an agents already scouted ahead ahead of them the medical cruiser just getting there and the nurse is asking how he's doing. he looks really ash and he doesn't look very good. he collapses bam just falls on the ground. his knees hit the ground but ray shattuck and and jerry park catch him suddenly a whole horde of people carrying him to the trauma bay and they throw him on a gurney the nurses a nurses paramedic a doctor who initially treat him all thought he was gonna die. he looked that bad. they all thought this guy's
dead. this is a nightmare their hands are shaking the surprise the united states. we got to treat him. they start instantly doing the medical protocols. they need to save his life so that you know throwing in ivs and they're throwing in they're getting long lines into them. you know, someone is a you know, got an oxygen mask on them to give him air because you got a stabilize someone's blood pressure really fast prevent shock which will kill you. a nurse can't get his blood pressure. she can't hear it. she has to get it palpably she feels as brachial artery to feel with the if the blood pressure is when she can't 60 anything below about 90 is shock isn't a lot of trouble. you know, this guy's a lot of trouble. they don't always been shot. they think maybe he's had a heart attack maybe jerry parr and some others. tell the nurse. we think he broke a rib and the limousine when they came hurling in the limousine. he he landed on the transom, you know for the transmission. and jerry parson suspects, he broke rib and punctured along. but this is clearly going bad jerry paris praying. please let this guy live he's thinking back to kennedy, you know, not another one. we can't lose another one. this is crazy. you know and they they throw the
ivs they're following all the proper protocols, which really had only really come into existence in the last 10 years. you know, reagan really is lucky because not only did the secret service ramp up their training and save his life, but at the same time this hospital, well not this one, but that hospital only became a certified level one trauma center two years before reagan shot and even years before that emergency medicine was the backwater of the medical establishment and then only just begun to realize how to treat people who are victims of trauma and saved them and they they come to realize. was that you have to treat first and diagnose later. don't worry about diagnosing, you know, don't try to fix stuff wonder what's broken. no, you stabilize and get the blood pressure up, you know, don't let him go into shock stabilize. stop the bleeding and then fix what's wrong and so that's what they're doing. now. they're going crazy going through a checklist. there's no doctor ordering people what to do. there's not this everyone knows exactly what they have to do at that second as if you have to think you make mistakes if you have to think it takes too much time, everyone. does it reagan's blood pressure goes up he begins to be stabilized.
you know the doctor comes in and realizes, you know, they roll them over. they're trying to feel it drawn. they can't hear any breath sounds in his left lung they roll them over a little a surgical intern or not. surgical entry. i guess. he was the anesthesis anesthesia intern at that moment comes in, you know and even milling about even put the action mask and reagan space until someone else came. and he's a vietnam veteran. and he'd been shot in vietnam. he actually been in helicopter and almost died and it was rescued to have a rice patty and they roll them over and he looks down goes. hey. that's a bullet hole a little slit. tiny little flat slit right here because the bullet had flattened remember and hit him like a saw like a buzz saw and then it goes in tumbles through and tears up some arteries and that's why he's bleed. he's bleeding. so, oh man, he must be feeling with blood. so or air and so they get a chest tube dr. joe giordano who had established the trauma unit here and made the emergency room what it is today and what it was then takes over and inserts the chest tube. blood starts pouring out blood just keeps coming. and when they're like, oh.
usually an 85% of gunshot victims in the chest chest tube stopped the bleeding. why you drain the blood the lung re expands the re-expanding lung puts pressure on the bleeding arteries and capillaries and they cut off but it's still coming. it's still coming the blood won't stop. this is starting to concern them. they get ben aaron who is working across the street at the time he comes over. he's a the chief thoracic surgeon at the hospital realizes, you know, we have to take this guy to surgery we have to fix them at 257 pm i a lot of doctors took notes and i use these notes to build this timeline not even in half hour after you've been shot exactly half hours been shot. they start wheeling to the or and this is where reagan delivers some of his best line just before being wheel to the or he sees his wife nancy reagan. he reprises a line jack dempsey used after getting you know, losing the world heavy weight championship 1920s, honey. i forgot to duck. and he really said it doctors heard him say it. you know, i have notes that they said it people always wanted to be really say that stuff. he said everything weren't made up by republic.
ends or his administration. he said this stuff then as his wheel to the or he sees jim brady. he sees jim baker and ed meese would rushed here to to talk to him and and it's mike dever and these are his three top agents collectively notes of troika. they run things from this who's minding the store. yeah, you know he's tracking jokes. here's a guy, you know, whatever and so they wheel them to the the or here's reagan going in the operating room encourage will entertainer he believes the role of president is his role to play. it's a role to play. would he pass up a great operating room moment cody pass up a great operating room moment and his mind i can't get in his head. he leans up on his shoulder takes off the oxygen mask and says, i hope you're all republicans to all the doctors joe giordano the man who set the trauma thing except the system that save reagan's life the third time this day says, mr. president today, we're all republicans that's ironic because joe giordano is about as liberalized they come the nurses and doctors suspect that when he
was in the or he knew things were very tense. he needed them. he knew he needed them to act normally in professionally and he needed to reduce the tension in the room. and so that's why he did that. he was on the hospital for 11 till april 11th 12 days after the shooting. and 13 days total and when he in the operating room, you know, you went through surgery ben aaron retrieved the bullet. and i interviewed it's fascinating is how routine the hospital try to keep things during a surgery, you know, aaron very by the books former military man one to insure his own team. was there his normal team. so even had a 31 year old surgical intern with it and that 31 surgery year old surgical intern david adelberg. reached into the president's chest and pulled the presence beating heart aside with his hand to give ben aaron more room to hunt for the bullet. because that's i had to find the bullet think of that being a 31 year old the president's beating heart in your hand. looks that powerful moment. anyway, they find the bullet. they stitch up the bleeding. they stop the bleeding.
they stitch them up send them to recovery room where he again regals the world with hilarious liners that he wrote by hand. i mean the written by hand and the reagan library the reagan foundation. let me read these notes but 1991 the 10th anniversary the shooting, you know, reagan came here. for an anniversary event and to to support the brady bill for gun control. was a big deal for reagan to do that and they named the they named the emergency room the ronald reagan institute of emergency medicine. in the 70s the secret service is realizing that the world there are a lot of political assassinations, you know, we lost bobby kennedy in 68 martin luther king kennedy and 63 not a lot changed in their training culture and the 70s a bunch of agents out in la started training better like how to react when they're shot. you know, how to how to react in a split second and they adopt this kind of training to improve how quickly they react so the secret service agents like jerry part tim mccarthy react almost instantaneously the gunfire, but if you look at what happened to kennedy and george wallace in 72, they were debacles. i mean, you know ray kennedy
shot in the neck and the driver just keeps driving straight no invasive maneuvers at all because they weren't trained. they weren't trained to react without thinking all right, that's interesting, right? they're prepared. but yet they let him walk out like this inside. meanwhile, they checked everybody who went in they don't they bomb had bomb sniffing dogs checked the speech before he went in they check the names of everyone who in contact with the president and yet they let an unscreened rope line 15 feet from the president wide out in the open and the guy has a gun. and so there's this incongruity this like irreconcilable something going on with the secret service where they're prepared for the worst. but they don't try to prevent the worst. and that's something after it. it's done. you have bunkers like this when the president visits a hotel that let's say doesn't have a garage that he can pull into into or this kind of thing. what they do is they they build a tent and so they did that. they also used magnetometers everywhere. jerry parr is a funny story, you know the agent who saved reagan's life when they started stalling a metal detectors at the white house after this happened and they they seized an inordinate amount of guns from
old ladies from the south who who came to visit the white house and so they took those kinds of steps and if you look at the last 30 years no president has been shot at now. there are things that make us concerned about their safety those social lights from virginia who snuck into the white house and shook obama's hand. they didn't have weapons, but you don't know what if they had snuck in. the guy had been like a jujitsu master or something, you know, or did something to kill the president the guy through this shoes at rate at bush interact, you know, we don't know what could have been in those in this era and this open society. it's very difficult job they have i found it interesting that you know this day played such a key role in reagan's ultimate success. you know, what's an amazing to me is that in mid-march and you know two weeks before the shooting. there's a pole that showed reagan had the lowest approval rating of any president at that time in their first term. now there's nine percent approval rating, which is really low for a president as honeymoon period wow, when we think back we think he crushed carter in a landslide everyone loved ronald reagan, but it's not true. he had controversial policies, you know, there's stuff about el
salvador coming up, you know, he wanted to cut spending and and lower taxes and those were actually controversial things at the time and increased defense spending and people were unsure about him. well, you get shot. he performs amazingly this day. it people begin to separate the man. they admire from the politics as a leader and he gets a lot of accomplished after this moment and the next year and it also forms a bond between him and the public lou cannon who may be probably the most esteemed reagan biography for told me. yes, you know dell what this day did it was kind of like they really reagan's character under fire and his heroism, you know, he cracked jokes in the emergency room. he cracked jokes in the or he cracked jokes after, you know kind of laughing at death and people saw this on tv. it was a real live event. it's a dawn of the 24 hour news cycle people were drawn to their tele into cross country the radios and they're listening this coverage. and they kind of feel like it was their aunt or their uncle or their their grandfather who was shot and they formed that bond with him and i think that carried him through i think it you know, it kept him from