Ronald Reagan Part 69B (30 years after assassination attempt)


I remember getting finished with my college classes for the day and turning on my car. Then I felt a cold feeling go through my whole body when I realized immediately that  special report on the radio was reporting  there had been an assassination attempt on the president.

Picture of Ronald Reagan waving to the crowd immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt.
(Picture from the Ronald Reagan Library)

President Reagan waves to crowd immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt, Washington Hilton Hotel. (March 30, 1981)

I still remember today the exact place that I parked that day, and I did not even leave that space for the next few minutes as I wanted to find out exactly what had happened before I started moving down the road. 

Reflecting back on this always makes me think of all the people that told me that they had remembered where they were when they heard the news about President Kennedy’s assassination.

Today is 30 years after that event. Below is a portion of an article by Paul Wagner of the Washington DC Fox News affiliate that was published on their website on March 11, 2011.

 30 years ago in March, John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as he walked to his limousine outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.

The chaotic and tragic moments were preserved forever by photographers who were there that day.

It is a day in history that is now the subject of a book titled “Rawhide Down.” The book is a riveting minute-by-minute account of what happened to President Reagan on March 30, 1981.

It is a shooting experienced first hand by Jerry Parr, the head of the President’s Secret Service detail. What follows is Parr’s recollections of the day’s tragic events.

At 2:27 pm, March 30, 1981, President Reagan walked out of the VIP entrance of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Waiting for him with a loaded .22 caliber revolver was Hinckley, standing amongst of group of reporters, photographers and people who just wanted to catch a glimpse of the president.

“There’s two shots, ‘Bang, bang,’” said Parr in an interview outside the Hilton Monday. “Then there is a gap in time, but very, very miniscule and then I hear four more shots, but I’m already moving on that first shot.”

Parr is standing just behind the President as the shots ring out. As Head of the Secret Service Presidential Detail, Parr assigned himself to work with Reagan that day in hopes of bonding with the President. By then, Reagan had been in office for just over two months.

Parr agreed to go back to the Hilton where we talked to him about the shooting and the decisions he made.

“Shattick (Ray Shaddick, another agent on the detail) sees our feet hanging out and he throws my feet and the President’s feet and slams the door and I told the driver to leave. That door is shut in three seconds from the first shot to the door being shut,” Parr said.

As the limousine roars off, Parr notices an unusual mark on the bulletproof glass of the rear door.

“I saw two things when I left as we pulled out of here. One is the bullet hole in the window that didn’t penetrate at all. It dimpled out. It’s got this glass and then a film in between it and then they pack it together. But I could see that it had been hit there and I could see three bodies on the sidewalk as we pulled away,” he said.

By now, other agents had wrestled Hinckley to the ground. Later, they would say he was still pulling the trigger.

Fearful someone would harm Hinckley, the agents left behind hustled the would-be assassin into a police cruiser for the short ride to D.C. Police headquarters.

At the same time, Parr was examining the President to see if he was hurt.

“Kneeling in front of him, I ran my hands up under his coat, in the belt area and then I ran my hands up his back, up under his arm and his armpit area and his neck and I ran my hands through his hair and the back of his neck and looked for any wounds,” said Parr. “I looked for blood on my hands and there wasn’t any. So that’s when I told Ray Shaddick I think we are going to the White House and I used the word ‘Crown’ in those days. About Dupont Circle down here, maybe 30 seconds into the run, we were moving pretty fast then, he started spitting up this bright red frothy blood.”

“Crown” was the Secret Service code word for the White House.

As the limousine approached 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, it made a hard right turn for the hospital. It was a decision many believe saved the President’s life.

As Reagan’s limo pulled up to the hospital’s front entrance, Parr says he was surprised to see no one waiting there.

“Shaddick opened the door and I backed out. I put my hand out, but he didn’t want to take it. He had a habit of hitching his pants up, so he hitches his pants up and we walked in. I’m on the left-hand side of him and Shaddick is on the right. I go in and maybe 20 or 30 feet and he collapses. I mean he is dead weight,” Parr said.

What happens next is explained in a riveting minute-by-minute account of a trauma team in action.

“Rawhide Down,” written by Washington Post Reporter Del Quentin Wilber, tells the story of Reagan’s brush with death and how some doctors, nurses and even Parr thought the President might die.

“Eventually they put Brady (White House Press Secretary Jim Brady) right beside him with a drape between us and Tim McCarthy (wounded Secret Service Agent) was there. Delahanty (wounded D.C. Police Officer) went to the Washington Hospital Center and I was concerned he would pass away because I knew what it meant to the Secret Service to lose a President,” said Parr.

He stayed with the President as the doctors and nurses scrambled to find out why Reagan couldn’t breath.

“They told him they were going to operate because blood was coming out faster then they put it in, so I walked over to him and I said, ‘God save your life’ or something like that. I don’t know now, but I said something like that. It’s about all I could do,” Parr said.

Picture of chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.  James Brady and police officer Thomas Delahanty lie wounded on the ground.
(Picture from the Ronald Reagan Library)

Chaos outside the Washington Hilton Hotel after the assassination attempt on President Reagan. James Brady and police officer Thomas Delahanty lie wounded on the ground. (March 30, 1981)

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