The day was Monday, March 30th, 1981. I was eleven years old and a fifth grader at Webster Elementary School in Scotch Ridge, Ohio. School was out for the day and I was in soccer practice as a proud member of the Webster Cosmos.
One of the other soccer players came up to me and said, "Did you hear the good news?"
I replied, "No."
"Someone shot the President!" He exclaimed.
He continued, "Did you hear the bad news?"
I shook my head in the negative.
"The President is still alive!"
I was in a highly skeptical mood. I had trouble fathoming that the President had been shot. However, rumors continued to spread all over the soccer field about the botched assassination attempt. Some of the stories were wild. In one version, a man had jumped out of a car and fired a machine gun at President Reagan and was then killed by the Secret Service.
My Mom came to pick me up after practice. I had a lot of questions. She informed me that President Reagan had indeed been shot. However, she assured me that there had been no machine guns involved and that the failed assassin was still alive and in police custody.
Throughout the evening, all of the channels (all four of them!) showed footage of the assassination attempt over and over again. I sat watching the TV with a mix of shock, fear, and excitement. I felt relieved by the constant assurances from my family that the President was going to be OK.
What actually happened? Wikipedia has a good account. It notes, "The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the United States Presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington (D.C.) Hilton Hotel, President Reagan, and three others, were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr., who had previously stalked President Jimmy Carter and had a history of mental illness. As Reagan walked out of the hotel's T Street NW exit toward his waiting car, Hinckley emerged from the crowd and fired a Rohm RG-14 .22 cal. revolver six times at him. The gun, a Saturday night special that cost US$25, was manufactured by Rohm Gesellschaft, a West German company, and assembled by its American subsidiary, R.G. Industries, Inc. It was loaded with six Devastator bullets that were designed to explode on impact, though all failed to do so. Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delehanty were wounded. Hinckley was quickly subdued by the Secret Service. The entire incident was captured on video by television reporters."
Reagan quickly recovered. Reagan spoke several famous lines at this time including to his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" and to the surgeons at the operating table "Please tell me you're all Republicans."
I also remember the fascination I had with Hinckley. My eleven year old mind could think of few things more evil that trying to kill the President of the United States of America. My Dad was very vocal. He repeatedly offered the opinion that not only should Hinckley be executed but that he would indeed fry in the electric chair in fairly short order.
The next day at school, my class talked a lot about the assassination attempt. A lot of students were upset about it. No one was joking about it anymore and I heard no more comments about it being a bad thing that Reagan survived. I asked my teacher (Mrs. Schnicker) about Hinckley and why he did it. She had no answers but she also shared the opinion that Hinckley would probably be executed.
Hinckley was never executed. In fact, after a trial he was actually acquitted of all charges by reason of his insanity. In retrospect, this seems more reasonable to me now. Trying to kill the President to get the attention a famous actress is indeed lunacy. However, the acquittal seemed very unfair and wrong at the time it happened.
I am very thankful that there have been no further incidents of an assassin harming a President since that day. I hope I never have to explain to my sons why such an event has happened. I do not think I would do well at answering those kind of questions. As it is, that March day over 25 years ago is forever etched in my mind. I think of it every time I watch a soccer game or whenever I hear about Hinckley in the news.