The attempted assassination of United States President Ronald Reagan occurred on Monday, March 30, 1981, 69 days into his presidency. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. Hinckley’s motivation for the attack was to impress actress Jodie Foster, over whom he had developed an obsession after seeing her in the film Taxi Driver. There were no fatalities in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Reagan was shot in the chest, just below the left underarm. He suffered a punctured lung and heavy internal bleeding, but prompt medical attention allowed him to recover quickly. No formal invocation of presidential succession took place, although Secretary of State Alexander Haig controversially stated that he was “in control here” while Vice President George H. W. Bush returned to Washington.
The most seriously wounded victim was White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was left paralyzed from a gunshot wound to the head. He would later die in 2014 of causes a Virginia medical examiner found were directly related to the 1981 shooting. Hinckley also wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and Washington D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of attempting to assassinate the President and remained confined to a psychiatric facility. On July 27, 2016 it was announced he would be released not before August 5, 2016, on convalescent leave to reside in Williamsburg, Virginia. In January 2015, federal prosecutors announced that they would not charge Hinckley with Brady’s death, despite the medical examiner’s classification of his death as a homicide.
Hinckley’s motivation for the attack was born of his obsession with actress Jodie Foster because of erotomania. While living in Hollywood in the late 1970s, he saw the film Taxi Driver at least 15 times, apparently identifying strongly with Travis Bickle, the lead character portrayed by Robert De Niro. The arc of the story involves Bickle’s attempts to protect a 12-year-old child prostitute, played by Foster. Towards the middle of the film, Bickle attempts to assassinate a United States Senator who is running for president. Over the following years, Hinckley trailed Foster around the country, going so far as to enroll in a writing course at Yale University in 1980 after reading in People magazine that she was a student there. He wrote numerous letters and notes to her in late 1980. He called her twice and refused to give up when she indicated that she was not interested in him.
On March 21, 1981, Ronald Reagan, the new President of the United States, visited Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. with his wife Nancy for a fundraising event. He recalled, “I looked up at the presidential box above the stage where Abe Lincoln had been sitting the night he was shot and felt a curious sensation … I thought that even with all the Secret Service protection we now had, it was probably still possible for someone who had enough determination to get close enough to the president to shoot him.”
At 2:27 p.m., :82 as Reagan exited the hotel through “President’s Walk” and its T Street NW exit toward his waiting limousine, Hinckley waited within the crowd of admirers. While the Secret Service extensively screened those attending the president’s speech, in a “colossal mistake” the agency allowed an unscreened group to stand within 15 ft (4.6 m) of him, behind a rope line. :80–81,225 Unexpectedly, Reagan passed right in front of Hinckley. Believing he would never get a better chance, :81 Hinckley fired a Röhm RG-14 .22LR blue steel revolver six times in 1.7 seconds, :82 missing the president with all but one shot. The first bullet hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head. The second bullet hit District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck as he turned to protect Reagan. Hinckley now had a clear shot at the president, :81 but the third bullet overshot him and hit the window of a building across the street. As Special Agent In Charge Jerry Parr quickly pushed Reagan into the limousine, the fourth bullet hit Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he spread his body over Reagan to make himself a target. :81 The fifth bullet hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open side door of the limousine. The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and hit the president in his left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung causing it to partially collapse, and stopping nearly 1 inch (25mm) from his heart. Parr’s prompt reaction had saved Reagan from being hit in the head.