John Hinckley Jr. Shoots President Ronald Reagan In The Chest In 1981
Law enforcement officials escort John Hinckley, Jr. from a helicopter at the Marine Base in Quantico, Virginia. Hinckley tried to kill President Ronald Reagan. Source: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was walking to his limo after giving a speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. when John Hinckley Jr. fired three times at the Commander in Chief. Thankfully Hinckley didn’t accomplish his goal, and he went down in history as a crazy person. Hinckley was a guy who had every chance to be successful in life. He came from a good family and he had prospects, but there was something off. How did a normal guy from Oklahoma find his way to Washington D.C. with a revolver in his hand? And what does Jodie Foster have to do with it?
Hinckley came from a prominent family
John Hinckley Jr. didn’t come from the kind of family that we think of when we we hear about would-be presidential assassins. He was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma in 1955 to an affluent family. His father was the president of World Vision United States, and chairman and president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation, so he could have had a nice life. After the Hinckley family moved to Dallas in 1959 Hinckley was a social butterfly in high school. He played sports, learned the piano and was well liked. After graduating high school in 1973 he studied at Texas Tech off and on until 1980 before dropping out to pursue his dreams.
He wanted to be a songwriter
After dropping out of college Hinckley left west Texas for California. He set his sights on Los Angeles and the burgeoning music scene with hopes of becoming a songwriter. Hinckley’s career as a songwriter never took off. If he was performing anywhere there’s no record of it, only of his dreams falling short. He consistently wrote to his parents to ask for money and he made up a story about having a girlfriend - which may have been an early sign of his mental break, or maybe he was just embarrassed. In 1976 he moved to his parent’s home in Evergreen, Colorado. Following his move home he started stocking up on guns and underwent some form of therapy but it didn’t really help.
After seeing Taxi Driver he became obsessed with Jodie Foster
While living with his parents in Colorado Hinckley saw Taxi Driver and became obsessed with the film. He was especially drawn to Jodie foster, who played a 12-year-old girl who’s the victim of sexual trafficking. Hinckley connected to Foster’s character as well as Travis Bickle’s plan to assassinate a presidential candidate in order to impress the apple of his eye. Hinckley was so obsessed with Foster that when she began attending Yale University in 1981 he moved to New Haven, Connecticut to be near her. He tried to call her multiple times and actually managed to slip messages and poems under the front door of her home. Even so, she never engaged with Hinckley on any meaningful level.
Hinckley decided to impress Jodie Foster with a presidential assassination
Since his poems and weird phone calls weren’t cutting it Hinckley decided that he needed to do something big to get her attention. He thought about hijacking a plane or committing suicide in front of her, but decided that the best way to make an impression would be to assassinate the president. At the time Carter was in office at the time and Hinckley started following him around the country only to be arrested in Nashville, Tennessee on a weapons charge.
Following the arrest Hinckley returned home and entered psychiatric treatment but his mental health continued to spiral out of control. After treatment he once again focused on assassinating the president but this time it was Reagan who he obsessed over.
He fired at Reagan from point blank range
Hinckley arrived in Washington D.C. on March 28, two days before he planned to pull the trigger. Regan’s full schedule for the weekend was published in the Washington Star so it was easy for the would-be assassin to carry to his plan. On the 30th, Reagan gave a speech at a luncheon of AFL–CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel and as he walked to the limo at 2:27 p.m Hinckley pushed through the media scrum and at about 15 feet from the president he fired all six rounds of his Röhm RG-14 .22 LR blue steel revolver at the president and his Secret Service men.
White House Press Secretary James Brady was hit just above his left eye, a police officer named Thomas Delahanty was shot in the neck, and thanks to an officer pushing Hinckley out of the way president Reagan only suffered a shot to his ribs before he was pushed into his limo. One of Hinckley’s final bullets barely missed the presidents head and struck a window across the street.
Hinckley was found to be legally insane
When Hinckley went to trial in 1982 he was charged with 13 offenses but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He wasn’t set free and was placed in a psychiatric hospital shortly after the trial. While he was locked in a mental unity Hinckley stated that the assassination attempt was "the greatest love offering in the history of the world” before saying that was disappointed that Foster never responded to his show of affection. He wrote:
I sacrificed myself and committed the ultimate crime in hopes of winning the heart of a girl. It was an unprecedented demonstration of love. But does the American public appreciate what I've done? Does Jodie Foster appreciate what I've done? 'Doesn't Anyone Understand? There are many times when I wonder why the world is still revolving. Doesn't anyone understand the meaning of March 30? Jodie tries to carry on with her life as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened to her. She still keeps her distance from me and torments me with her silence. I gave my life for Jodie and she couldn't care less. I can't believe her heart. Yes, Jodie Foster knows who I am, just like the entire civilized world knows who I am. But does it matter now? I wanted Jodie's love, not eternal infamy.
John Hinckley is alive and well and living a very weird life
Today, John Hinckley Jr. is a somewhat well adjusted member of society - although he’s under heavy surveillance by the U.S. government. In 1999 he was allowed to make visits to home from the hospital and throughout the 2000s he was allowed longer and longer leaves of absence from the hospital. In 2016 a judge ruled that he should be released from St. Elizabeths hospital and allowed to move in with his mother as long as he obeyed a strict set of guidelines. Hinckley still lives under the watchful eye of the psychiatric community, but according to everyone involved he’s trying to stay on the straight and narrow.
Tags: Assassination | John Hinckley Jr. | Ronald Reagan
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