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Hinckley

John Warnock Hinckley, Jr. is the attempted assassin of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and, more recently, the indirect assassin of then-White House Press Secretary James Brady. He committed the attack in order to impress teenage actor Jodie Foster.

Background

Hinckley was born on May 29, 1955, to John Warnock Hinckley Sr. and JoAnn Moore. Hinckley, Sr. was the chairman of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation and JoAnn was a homemaker. They lived in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. Hinckley's older brother Scott became a vice president of the family business after graduating from Vanderbilt University. Hinckley was expected to graduate as well, but he dropped out of college in April 1976. He then attempted to become a songwriter, but failed early. Apparently feeling unloved, Hinckley began believing in an imaginary girlfriend. The movie Taxi Driver came out that year, starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle and Jodie Foster as Iris. In the film, Bickle is a violent, alienated cab driver who develops a fascination with a campaign volunteer who works for a senator who is seeking the presidential nomination. As his fascination turned to obsession, Bickle meets Iris, a 12-year-old prostitute. As their relationship deepened, the movie came to its shattering conclusion: Bickle sent money to Iris and a letter telling her that he'd soon be dead. He made a failed attempt to assassinate the candidate. Bickle kills Iris's pimp and was hailed as a hero by the media. Hinckley identified with Bickle and started to dress like Bickle, favoring army surplus fatigue jackets and combat boots. Just as Bickle did, he kept a journal and drank peach brandy. Hinckley eventually dropped in and out of college, living in Colorado, Texas, and California.

Jodie Foster at the time of the release of Taxi Driver.

In August 1979, inspired by Bickle's gun collection, Hinckley bought a gun and took up target shooting. He purchased more guns regularly and bought ammunition called Devastator rounds, which explode on impact. After hearing from a People magazine article in May 1980 that Jodie Foster had enrolled into Yale University, Hinckley went to New Haven and began to write letters to her, receiving polite responses from either her or a publicist. Lost in the throes of erotomania, Hinckley was convinced that he needed to "rescue" Foster, as Bickle had rescued Iris in Taxi Driver. Hinckley made contact with Foster at least a couple of times, but she told him she didn't interact with people she didn't know. He also called her and sent her letters and poems. Thinking he was in love with Foster, and vice versa, Hinckley felt that he had to demonstrate his love for her with an act that would caught her attention. He decided to assassinate the President of the United States of America. During the 1980 election, Hinckley went to a couple of campaign appearances hosted by then-President Jimmy Carter. Hinckley did have a chance to make an assassination attempt on Carter during his 1980 reelection campaign, but apparently lost his nerve and left. Hinckley left his gun collection once in his hotel room. He was also stopped by airport security for having guns in his luggage. Hinckley was given a fine, with his guns confiscated, and was released. Hinckley then bought more guns and weapons to replace the ones that were confiscated. On December 8, 1980, Mark David Chapman assassinated celebrity John Lennon. Afterwards, Hinckley took a train to New York to join in the vigil for Lennon in Central Park. He described himself as "in deep mourning". Soon, he purchased a Charter Arms revolver, like Chapman had used.

Assassination Attempt, Trial, and Incarceration

One of many photos of the Reagan assassination attempt.

On March 30, 1981, Hinckley wrote a letter to Foster, which he never mailed, explaining how he planned to win her love for him. Then he took a cab to the Washington Hilton, where Reagan was addressing a labor conference. At 2:25 p.m., Reagan was leaving the hotel, waving at bystanders. Hinckley pulled out a revolver and fired it six times in 1.7 seconds. The assassination attempt went as followed: White House Press Secretary James Brady was hit in the head by the first shot. The second shot hit police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck as he turned to protect Reagan. Then, Hinckley had a clear shot at Reagan but the third overshot him and hit the window of a building across the street. Special Agent-In-Charge Jerry Parr immediately pushed Reagan into the limousine. Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy spread his body over Reagan to make himself a target, and was shot in the abdomen. 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 Reagan in his left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging itself in his lung, stopping nearly an inch from his heart. Had Parr hesitated for a moment, the President would likely have been hit in the head.

A Rohm RG-14 .22-caliber revolver, similar to the one used to shoot President Reagan.

Secret Service immediately dog-piled on Hinckley before he could do anything else. In order to prevent what happened with Lee Harvey Oswald, being killed by a civilian, agent Dennis McCarthy (no relation to Timothy McCarthy), kept civilians away, even striking two of them. He was disarmed and arrested. President Reagan was taken to the George Washington University Hospital. He made a full recovery. Reagan made jokes about the whole situation, saying the famous line, "Honey, I forgot to duck." He even told his surgical team, "Please tell me you're all Republicans". At his trial, Hinckley was charged with 33 offenses. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. Occasional parental visits are allowed. His claims that he has recovered from his obsession with Jodie Foster are written off because of the photographs of Foster in his rooms as well as his attempts to have nude photos of her mail ordered to him. In the aftermath of his trial, the federal government and several states began revising their laws regarding trying those deemed insane, with four states abolishing it as a defense altogether. On July 27, 2016, a judge ruled that Hinckley be discharged from St. Elizabeth's on August 5 of that year, judging that he was no longer a threat to himself or others.

Modus Operandi

Since Hinckley only killed one victim, the term M.O. is somewhat misused. When he tried to kill Ronald Regan, he fired six shots at him with a Röhm RG-14 .22 cal. blue-steel revolver. One bullet struck James Brady in the head, which left him partially paralyzed and ultimately killed him 33 years later due to complications from the injury. Another bullet struck Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck, another struck Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen, and the last landing shot struck Reagan in the left arm and got lodged in his lung. The other two missed and Delahanty, McCarthy, and Reagan all survived.

Known Victims

President Ronald Reagan.

Former White House Press Secretary James Brady.

  • Unspecified dates:
    • Jodie Foster (stalked for an unspecified amount of time)
    • Jimmy Carter (39th President of the United States; stalked and came close to shooting but lost his nerve)
  • March 30, 1981: One killed and three injured in the Reagan assassination attempt:
    • James Brady (White House Press Secretary; shot in the head and partially paralyzed; later died on August 4, 2014, from complications of his wound)
    • Officer Thomas Delahanty (shot in the back of the neck)
    • Timothy McCarthy (Secret Service agent; shot in the abdomen)
    • Ronald Reagan (40th President of the United States; shot in the left arm; the bullet was lodged in the lung)

Notes

  • After the incident, James Brady became a staunch advocate of gun control and founded the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit lobbying organization lobbying for gun control and increased awareness of gun violence. This bill would go on to enrage future Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris. Brady died on August 4, 2014, from complications from his gunshot wound, and his death was ruled as a homicide four days later. It was announced on January 2, 2015, that Hinckley will not face charges in his death.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season One
    • "Somebody's Watching" - Hinckley was mentioned when the BAU compared him to the case at hand, Maggie Lowe, who may have been based on him - Both are erotomaniac stalkers and assassins who had a fixation with a female actress, shot their victims with a revolver, stalked their fixated actresses, and attacked others because of them (though for different reasons: Hinckley tried to kill Ronald Regan in an attempt to impress Jodie Foster, while Lowe killed people she perceived as threats to Lila Archer's career).
  • Season Thirteen
    • "Lucky Strikes" - Hinckley was mentioned by Rossi along with Vince Li as examples of dangerous criminals released from mental hospitals.
    • "False Flag" - Hinckley was mentioned as an example of shooters who read J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye and claimed to have been influenced by it.

Sources

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