WASHINGTON -- The Press Secretary
Five years ago, on March 30, 1981, a burst of bullets outside a downtown hotel forever changed the lives of the people frozen into that horrifying moment of attempted assassination.
President Reagan now lives behind metal detectors and his assailant, John W. Hinckley Jr., is confined to a mental hospital. White House news secretary Jim Brady is crippled and former policeman Thomas Delahanty is retired on disability. Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy has a Medal of Valor and a chest scar.
Reagan, Brady, Delahanty and McCarthy were hit by volley of six bullets that exploded from Hinckley's gun, in less than 2 seconds, at about 2:25 p.m. EST.
In rapid succession, countless others -- from law enforcement officers who swarmed a would-be assassin to surgeons who saved a president's life -- joined the American drama.
Today, all are marked by that gray day when Hinckley suddenly began shooting at Reagan in front of the VIP door of the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Ronald Reagan, 75, is the only president to survive a bullet.
In an effort to reduce the chances he will ever have to endure another one, the Secret Service has multiplied its security measures and his wife, Nancy, prays.
'She says a prayer when he goes out,' said Elaine Crispen, the first lady's news secretary. 'She doesn't dwell on it, but (the risk) sits in he back of her mind.'
With Reagan's approval, the Secret Service has installed metal detectors at all the entrances to the White House and takes the devices on all his trips.
His public exposure has been reduced and his daily schedule is no longer published in advance. Five years ago, the FBI found in Hinckley's hotel room a copy of The Washington Post that had Reagan's schedule for the day, including his speech to a labor group at the Washington Hilton.
While leaving the hotel, Reagan was hit with a bullet that richocheted off the presidential limousine, pierced his left lung and came to rest next to his heart. He lost about half his blood.
Afterwards, Reagan told reporters that the bullet wound was 'the most paralyzing pain, as if someone hit me with a hammer.' He said that from then on, when in public, 'I have a hunch I'll be more alert.'
As for Hinckley, he said, 'The feeling is, indeed, I pray, that he can find an answer to his problems.'
'Petitioner is committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital (in Washington, D.C.) pursuant ... to having been found not guilty by reason of insanity of the offense of attempting to assassinate the president.'
So wrote John W. Hinckley Jr. last month in asking U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker to let him transfer to a 'less restrictive ward' at the facility and to allow him to leave the grounds alone once a month.
Parker ruled firmly against Hinckley on March 24, despite Hinckley's argument that he was no longer a 'threat to myself or others.'
At the hearing, Hinckley, 30, looked substantially thinner than during his trial 4 years ago and his sandy blond hair was longer. He did not appear to react when Parker turned him down.
In opposing the request, Hinckley's psychiatrists said his condition has improved somewhat, but that his 'mental illness is not totally in remission.' They said he still takes prescribed antipsychotic and anti-depression medication every day.
They also said if he were allowed to leave the hospital alone, 'It is not possible to state that Mr. Hinckley would not present a danger to the community.'
Hinckley, the son of a former Colorado oilman, has been confined to a maximum security unit since his 1982 trial that included evidence he shot Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, an actress he had never met.
Since being committed indefinitely, he has been a frequent writer to the news media, likening himself to a political prisoner.
'I'm doing damn well,' said Jim Brady, 45. Seated at home in Arlington, Va., he has no use of his left arm. His left leg is in a brace. He just returned from horseback riding, part of his treatment program.
'Next thing I want to do is levitate,' Brady said, his near-legendary sense of humor surfacing with a slight smile. 'They haven't taught me yet, but they promise to teach me how to levitate.'
Doctors say it's a miracle he is alive. When brought to George Washington University Hospital, a bullet through his head, it didn't look like he would make it to surgery.
Brady had three major operations and had a portion of his brain removed. He still gets daily speech and physical therapy. He can walk with a cane, but often uses a wheelchair.
He retained the title of White House news secretary, but works just once a week. His activities are generally limited to answering mail and attending briefings.
He is involved in several charities, and said he rarely thinks of Hinckley.
'If I spent a lot of time on thatit would be negative energy. I can't say anything goodabout the boy.'
Brady's son, Scott, 7, raced into the house.
'He doesn't have a lot of good things to say about Hinckley,' Brady said. 'He feels Hinckley took his daddy away from him.'
Last summer, Brady's wife, Sarah, 44, began lobbying for tougher gun laws, something Reagan has refused to do.
'She spends a lot of time on this gun control issue,' Brady said. 'And I'm glad she does. It's an outlet for her. Every now and then I want to kick a wastebasket or something like that. She doesn't have a wastebasket to kick.'
Secret Service Agent No. 1
Timothy McCarthy was also hit by a bullet meant for Reagan. McCarthy, however, took his deliberately. He stepped in the line of fire and receved a Medal of Valor.
'For extraordinary valor in protecting the life of President Ronald W. Reagan on March 30, 1981,' reads the inscription on his medal, the Secret Service's highest award.
Today, McCarthy, 36, a 14-year veteran of the service, guards Nancy Reagan. He is assistant special agent in charge of the first lady's protection detail.
He was promoted to the post in late 1984 after serving 2 years as the agent in charge of the Secret Service's counterfeiting squad in his hometown of Chicago. When he took the bullet, he was assigned to the president.
McCarthy, a former University of Illinois football player and the son of a Chicago policeman, was hit in the chest. The bullet passed through his right lung and lacerated his liver.
He was hospitalized for seven days and back on the job in three months.
In September 1981, McCarthy told Parade Magazine, which named him as one of its 'Policemen of the Year,' that he heard the first shot just after opening the car door for Reagan.
'I didn't know exactly where it came from, but I was looking. The adrenaline was pumping, but fear never entered into it. There was only time to react. .... I believe it was the third shot that got me.'
The Secret Service says McCarthy has given no interviews since. It says as a matter of policy, only special agents in charge talk to the news media.
'Timothy McCarthy is not interested in basking in the glory,' said Robert Snow, assistant to John Simpson, the Secret Service's director. 'He just wants to do his job.'
Thomas Delahanty, 50, is retired on full disability.
His last day as a D.C. patrolman, after 18 years of service, was when a bullet from Hinckley's gun struck him in the neck, lodging near his spinal column. He suffered nerve damage in his left shoulder.
He doesn't want to talk about it, either.
'Officer Delahanty is camera shy.' a police spokesman said. 'He is refusing all interviews. He doesn't wish for his whereabouts to be known. He did his part by getting shot.'
As a K-9 officer, Delahanty had never before been assigned to the president. Bup on March 30, 1981, Delahanty was available for the detail because his police dog, Kirk, was sick.
After the shooting, Washington Mayor Marion Barry visited Delahanty's hospital bedside. Barry told reporters Delahanty 'said he wish he could have done more' to protect the president. A picture in newspapers nationwide the next day showed Delahanty looking the 'wrong way' -- at Reagan instead of the crowd. Yet later, the Secret Service saw a picture by an amateur photographer that showed Delahanty scanning the crowd just a fraction of a second before the shots rang out.
Secret Service Agent No. 2
'That's me,' said Dennis McCarthy, 51. He was sitting in his townhouse in Springfield, Va., watching his own video replay of the shooting. It shows him leaping some 8feet onto a pistol-wielding Hinckley.
'I was on him in 1.5 seconds -- at the sixth shot.' said McCarthy. 'That shot went high into the building across the street. Anybody's guess where it would have gone if I hadn't gotten him.'
McCarthy, no relation to agent Timothy McCarthy, was the first Secret Service agent to touch Hinckley. He retired from the agency in 1984. Today he is a best-selling author.
His book, 'Protecting the President,' came out last fall with an inside look at his 20 years of service. It has caused some consternation in the agency by those who complained he broke the 'code of silence.' They also say his stories of womanizing reflected poorly on the service.
'Siver Fox' was McCarthy's nickname in the Secret Service. 'For two reasons,' he wrote -- 'my prematurely gray hair and my reputation, sometimes deserved and sometimes not, as a ladies' man.'
McCarthy stands by his book and maintains he revealed nothing that would endanger anyone. But he revealed the psyche of agents who must be willing to sacrifice their lives for the president's.
'You know what you're supposed to do, but you don't know whether you will do it. You wait for that day.'
For two days after the shooting, McCarthy had doubts if he measured up.
'I was afraid that maybe I had waited until after the shooting was done and then I jumped. I would have been a coward had I done that.'
The replays showed that he reacted instantly.
'If I hadn't respondEd, I don't think I'd be alive today. I wouldn't have been able to live with it.'
Secret Service Agent No. 3
Jerry Parr was the Secret Service agent in charge of the protection detail the day of the shooting. He is now the vice president of a private security company and a lecturer on the college circuit. His speeches include recollections of the attempted assassination.
Parr, like both McCarthys and agent Ray Shaddick, received the Secret Service's Medal of Valor for their actions that day.
'Our lives will never be quite the same.' said Parr, seated in a restaurant a block from the White House. 'There are no open wounds, but there are scars -- memories of what could have happened if the right decisions weren't made.'
At the sound of gunfire, Parr and Shaddick shoved Reagan into a waiting limousine. Initially, Parr thought Reagan was uninjured; there were no visible wounds.
Just seconds later, however, the president spit up blood and complained of chest pain. Parr ordered the driver, agent Drew Unruh, to turn right and go to George Gashington Hospital instead of the White House*
'I think forever the president and myself and Drew Unruh will be locked together in that ride to the hospital,' said Parr. 'It was one of those events in life when you live at the edge.'
Some medical experts have said Reagan might have died had he arrived at the hospital from 8 to 20 minutes later.
Parr, who looks like actor Walter Matthau, retired from the Secret Service in February 1985. He joined the security company and began speaking to college groups about terrorism, security and the history of assassinations.
Upon leaving the restaurant, Parr, a student of pastoral counseling, extended his hand, smiled and quietly said, 'Peace.'
Autographed pictures of President Reagan hang in the George Washington University Hospital offices of Dr. Benjamin Aaron and Dr. Joseph Giordano, the surgeons who removed the bullet from the president's chest.
Both doctors, with the bluntness typical of surgeons, acknowledge that they relished the challenge and their success.
'I enjoyed it,' said Aaron. 'Let me say, I enjoyed it after I was sure he was going to live.'
He said, 'I can't say whether it brought me any more business, but I must have heard a thousand times, 'If you are good enough for the president, you are good enough for me.''
Giordano has heard similar remarks. He said, 'I still consider it one of my most interesting and gratifying experiences. It was a fun thing to be a part of.'
Aaron, 52, is chief thoracic surgeon at the hospital, and Giordano, 44, is head of the trauma team. THey agreed that once Reagan was in surgery, the president was never in serious danger. But their own careers could have been.
'There's not a thoracic surgeon living who couldn't have done that as well as I did,' Aaron said. 'As a point of fact, however, every doctor who has been involved in a previous presidential wounding has ended up in big trouble, one way or the other -- mainly because the other presidents died.'
In 1984, Giordano took a political swing at Reagan after the president praised him in a campaign speech as the 'son of a milkman' who worked hard, achieved success and 'saved the life of a president.'
Giordano, a Democrat, replied that he achieved success, in large part, thanks to low-interest student loans that Reagan has sought to cut.
Flipping through newspaper clippings about the exchange, Giordano, said, 'I like the man. But I don't agree with a lot of his policies.'
Dr. Dennis O'Leary, 48, displayed a soothing bedside manner in the hours and days after Reagan's surgery. He stood before television cameras, told a concerned nation its president was doing well and emerged as a media star.
Next month, O'Leary, dean of clinical affairs for the past decade at George Washington Hospital, starts a new job as president of the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals in Chicago. He said he may have gotten the post, at least indirectly, because the role he played in comforting America.
'Maybe my career would have moved ahead without this, but there is no question that the name recognition I had out there in the health industry helped enormously,' he said.
One of Jodie Foster's few film appearances since the shooting was on a videotape played at Hinckley's trial. In it, she said, 'I don't have any relationship with John Hinckley.' The line prompted Hinckley to stalk out of the courtroom.
During the past few years, Foster, 24, has spent more time as a student than as an actress. In 1984, she graduated from Yale University.
The year before, while on an eight-month leave of absence, she appeared in a made-for-television movie, 'Svengali.' Since then, she has been in just one other movie, 'Hotel New Hampshire.'
An official at International Creative Management, a California company that represents Foster, said flatly, 'She doesnt want to talk about Hinckley.'
Hinckley's parents, John Sr. and Jo Ann, both 60, have spent the past few years crusading for a better public understanding of the mentally ill.
At their son's trial, John Hinckley Sr. broke into tears and testified, 'I am the cause of John's tragedy.' He blamed himself for forcing John Jr. out of the family home three weeks before the college dropout shot the president.
Subsequently, the elder Hinckley sold the oil company he founded, declared himself 'completely through with the business world,' and, with his wife, wrote their story, 'Breaking Points.'
Proceeds go to the American Mental Health Fund, an organization they established in Fairfax, Va., in 1983 to raise money for research and public education on the issue of mental illness.
A spokesman at the fund said the couple now lives in Williamsburg, Va. Once a month they travel the more than 150 miles to Washington, D.C., to join their son in family tHerapy at St. Elizabeths Hospital.