Merriman "Smitty" Smith, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage, was in the front seat of the press car behind the president's limousine when three shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.
Smith grabbed the car's radiotelephone and called the Dallas UPI bureau to dictate the initial bulletin: "Three shots were fired at President Kennedy's Motorcade in downtown Dallas."
Smith refused to give up the phone as the presidential limousine and the press car raced to Parkland Hospital. Various accounts have Associated Press reporter Jack Bell, one of three reporters in the back seat, pummeling Smith either with his fists or a shoe, trying to wrest control of the phone.
The bulletin was transmitted from Dallas to Chicago, the main relay point between the East and West coasts, and from there to New York where the editors in charge told all the line bureaus to halt transmission to allow Dallas to inform the world of the tragedy that stripped Americans of their optimism and ended Camelot.
A few of the bureaus tried to sneak in copy as Dallas gathered facts and took Smith's dictation. Kansas City tried to slip through a weather bulletin; Chicago tried to move a story about a murder trial. New York would have none of that.
"Dallas, it's yours," was the simple message turning over control of the main newswire, the A-wire. Veteran desker Jack Fallon kept lead-after-lead rolling under Smith's byline.
Shortly after the initial bulletin came the first flash: "Kennedy seriously wounded perhaps fatally by assassin's bullet."
About an hour later, another flash: "President Kennedy dead."
The shots rang out at 12:30 p.m. CST and the president arrived at 12:38 p.m. at Parkland Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1 p.m.
Almost immediately conspiracy theories began to fly, largely because of actions taken by the FBI and CIA, which had developed contingency plans in case a U.S. official was assassinated overseas as a result of CIA and administration efforts to overthrow and/or assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, said Lamar Waldron, who has written a new book blaming New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello for planning the assassination.
Lee Harvey Oswald, a disaffected Marine and one-time Russian defector, was identified as the shooter. Two days later, he too was dead, shot while in police custody by mob-affiliated nightclub manager Jack Ruby.
The Warren Commission, which conducted a 10-month investigation of the assassination, concluded Oswald was a lone nut, wholly responsible for the assassination. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded Oswald was the shooter, but he had help -- although the committee could not quite figure out from whom.
Investigators have re-enacted the shooting, trying to determine if Oswald really had time to fire three shots from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository using a bolt-action, Italian-made 1940 Mannlicher-Carcano, 6.5 millimeter rifle equipped with a four-power scope (some say the scope was mounted backwards and useless). Argument rages over whether he was a good enough marksman. And then there's his claim he was just a "patsy."
Much of the material that would shed light on the mystery remain classified despite a federal law requiring all papers related to the Kennedy assassination be made public.
So the mystery endures.