The President of the United States is arguably one of the most powerful, most important people in the world, and as such, the men who have held the office have attracted huge amounts of attention, both friendly and sinister over the years. Four sitting Presidents – Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy – have been assassinated, all by gunshot, but there have also been seventeen other attempts or plots to kill the President that have been identified and prevented.
Though most of these attacks have been politically motivated, there have been some truly strange reasons – one of the more bizarre attempts occurred on 30 March 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel just before 2.30 pm. Without warning six shots rang out – in quick succession – plunging the scene into chaos as security men scrambled to protect the President and secure the shooter. Luckily, with so many agents around, the man was rapidly captured and disarmed just seconds after the last shot was fired.
Three men in Reagan’s party were wounded as well as President Reagan himself who was hit by a ricochet that struck him under the left arm. An investigation was launched immediately to determine what was behind the event – and it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary motive.
The shooter was identified as 25 year-old John Hinckley Junior, son of the wealthy Hinckley family of Evergreen in Colorado. He grew up in a privileged world, his father was the president of World Vision US and chairman and president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation. As a child, Hinckley seemed to thrive, not only on the sports field but socially, being elected as class president twice. After graduating, he travelled to Los Angeles as a twenty year old to become a songwriter – an experiment that largely failed and he eventually returned to live with his parents in Evergreen, falling into a deep depression.
During this time he developed an obsession with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, it’s protagonist Travis Bickle, and it’s lead actress, Jodie Foster, spending the next 5 years trying to contact her without much success. Descending further into the depths of mental illness, he considered several different ways to gain Foster’s attention and respect before deciding to assassinate President Reagan in a move that would mirror his fictional idle, Travis Bickle, all leading to the near tragedy of 30 March 1981.
President Reagan, although seriously wounded, rapidly recovered and left hospital just 13 days later.
Hinckley was charged with 13 offences but found not guilt by reason of insanity and committed to full time confinement at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a psychiatric institution located in southeast Washington. He was released, under strict conditions, in 2016, some 35 years after his arrest.