On this day in1981, President Ronald Reagan is shot while leaving the Washington Union Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Reagan’s assailant, later identified as 25-year-old John Hinckley Jr., approached the president as he left the hotel after speaking to a union convention, and fired five to six shots from a .22 caliber gun in his direction. The president later recalled in his autobiography that the shots sounded like firecrackers. He turned to the agent next to him and said what the hell is that? One bullet hit Reagan in the chest. Immediately the Secret Service pulled Reagan into a waiting limousine and sped to George Washington University Hospital, where he walked into the emergency room on his own. White House Press Secretary James Brady, a policeman and a Secret Service agent were also injured in the shooting. Each man survived, but Brady sustained severe head injuries that caused permanent disability.
First lady Nancy Reagan arrived at the hospital soon after the shooting and sat by the president’s side as he recovered. Reagan was released from the hospital less than two weeks later and quickly returned to his presidential duties.
Reagan recalled the day of the assassination attempt in great detail in his autobiography. He remembered lying on a gurney in the emergency room while medical personnel, much to his disappointment, cut away his brand new pin-striped suit. As he started to lose consciousness, he felt a woman’s hand in his. He did not know if it was Nancy or a nurse and in typical Reagan fashion—always ready with a joke—he asked, Who is holding my hand? Does Nancy know about us?
In the years after the shooting, Reagan also recalled an ominous and prophetic visit he had made before the attempt on his life to the same theater in which Abraham Lincoln had been shot. While at the theater Reagan had mused that although presidential security had greatly improved since Lincoln’s time, it was still possible for someone who had enough determination to get close enough to a president to shoot him.
The assailant Hinckley, who acted alone, confessed a bizarre reason for the shooting–Hinckley was obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster and claimed he shot the president in order to impress her. Hinckley was arrested, judged not guilty by reason of insanity and placed in a mental hospital, where he remains today.