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A light rain was falling as President Reagan and...

By DEAN REYNOLDS

WASHINGTON -- A light rain was falling as President Reagan and his entourage left the hotel to walk the 25 steps to his waiting limousine idling in the driveway.

The president had just made another in his familiar speeches boosting his economic program. The address had received a lukewarm reception from the 4,000 delegates to the building trades union conference.

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As usual, Reagan ducked out a private passageway behind the stage and walked up the steps to the door and the crowd of several hundred waiting outside.

Reporters, myself among them, were ushered out a separate, more public entrance and positioned across from the open, thick-plated limousine door where Reagan was headed. The crowd was restrained by police.

As he came down the sidewalk, the president stepped off the curb onto the driveway -- about 15 feet from me. As is the usual practice, we inched closer to the automobile to ask questions. The day's topic: Poland.

The president was waving. The crowd was cheering. The assailant waited on the sidewalk.

It was approximately 2:30 p.m. EST.

Then the shots. Like firecrackers, but louder. The smell of gunpowder was carried on the humid air by the quick, successive bursts. In the tempest of my mind, there were four shots -- but it may have been as many as six.

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Reagan's smile vanished.

He had turned to look almost directly toward the spot -- not more than 10 feet away -- where the shots originated. A bewildered, frightened look spread over his face.

Others in the immediate area ducked into crouching positions. People were screaming as they recoiled in horror. It was pure bedlam.

My eyes were trained on Reagan. He had, by now, been pivoted around to face the limousine and was thrust inside head-first. That push from the Secret Service agent would have knocked over a footlocker.

'Get back! Get back!' shouted the agents, their faces stricken.

The door slammed shut and the limousine disappeared up Florida Avenue in a wail of sirens and racing engines.

My eyes left the speeding motorcade to take in a scuffle to the right and behind where the car had been. The gunman was being subdued by what appeared to be every police officer and Secret Service agent in the vicinity.

One bystander socked the suspect, a young blond man, as authorities piled on. All I could see of the would-be assassin was the tip of a raincoat and his two dark-trousered legs.

Handguns and automatic weapons were brandished by the police and the agents who stayed behind.

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As I ran inside, pushing over those innocents who were walking leisurely through the lobby, I remembered that I had not actually seen anyone hit by the gunfire.

I later learned that my friend, White House press secretary Jim Brady, had been shot in the head. A policeman and a Secret Service agent were also seriously wounded.

It occurred to me that others might remember me fleeing from the scene and find my behavior suspicious.

It was the same emotion I felt on that day in May 1972 when, covering Alabama Gov. George Wallace on the campaign trail, I stood not more than 20 feet from him as Arthur Bremer shot him and crippled him for life.

Could such a thing be happening again?

As I replayed the events in my head, they seemed to take place in slow motion. I had seen someone try to kill the president of the United States.

After a frenzied search -- I had to call my office and alert them to the shooting -- I finally located a telephone in a hotel office. I could barely talk, my voice was choked with emotion. Breathing, let alone talking, after my dash was difficult.

'Dave, Dave,' I shouted to my editor on the other end of the line. 'Reagan's been shot at!' It did not appear the president had been hit by the shots and, in fact, it was some time before his wound was confirmed.

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My story was dictated in fits and starts and the bulletin was filed as I ran over the gruesome details. What I had seen had taken no more than 20 or 30 seconds.

As I walked back outside, rain splattered on the sidewalk. Not enough had fallen to wash away the blood.

Local police and FBI agents quickly rounded up the eyewitnesses and took us inside for interrogation.

'This man saw the scuffle,' said one policeman as he led me to his superiors.

FBI agent Tom Carter asked me to recall what I had seen.

'It's your responsibility now?' I asked.

'Yeah,' he answered. 'It was an assassination attempt.'

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