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Stalker: The Reagan Shooting
Aired March 26, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dear Jodi, there is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan."
"This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel."
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard a noise, and I thought it was firecrackers.
I didn't know I was shot. And just then I coughed and I had a handful of bright red, frothy blood.
DREW GRIFFIN (voice-over): You were looking at a president who was dying?
JERRY PARR, SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Absolutely, yes, he was dying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think John Hinckley will be a threat for the rest of his life. I think he is a time bomb.
DREW GRIFFIN (voice-over): Seven days into the Reagan presidency, a welcome home ceremony on the White House lawn for 52 American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Iran, freed after 444 days in captivity.
It is a celebration that might never have taken place had would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr. succeeded the first time he had Ronald Reagan in his sight.
Tuesday, January 20th, 1981, inauguration day, president-elect Reagan heads for morning church services across a square from the White House. Detective Thomas Kaschak (ph) was among the motorcycle policemen watching a crowd on the opposite sidewalk. One man seemed different.
THOMAS KASCHAK: If somebody got in front of him, he would make sure that he maneuvered himself so that he was right there -- always right there by the rope line.
GRIFFIN: Kaschak was suspicious.
KASCHAK: Maybe there's something wrong. Maybe something isn't right there. I actually wanted to go over and stop him.
GRIFFIN (on camera): He asked his lieutenant who told him, the president's on his way. Let's not make a scene. Wait until later. Seventy days later when Ronald Reagan was shot, Kaschak looked at a TV screen and saw a familiar face.
KASCHAK: I immediately recognized him as the person that I saw at St. John's Church that morning.
GRIFFIN: Who was?
KASCHAK: John Hinckley.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): John Hinckley, 25 years old, a college dropout, a drifter living off his family's money. Years ago in a phone call from a mental hospital, Hinckley would confirm to our CNN producer James Polk, then an NBC reporter, that he was indeed there that day.
JAMES POLK, FORMER NBC NEWS REPORTER: Hinckley said he was across the street from the church on the sidewalk that morning.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And he admitted to you that he was armed.
POLK: I asked him did he have a gun? He said, yes. I asked, was it loaded? Yes, he said.
GRIFFIN: Was he planning to shoot Reagan?
POLK: He said, yes I was thinking about it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): At that very hour, the American hostages in Iran were waiting to board an airplane to freedom after 14 months in captivity.
ALAN GOLACINSKI, IRANIAN HOSTAGE: They were on both side of us. They were jostling us, punching at you, just screaming and yelling at you. "Death to America."
GRIFFIN: Alan Golacinski was security director at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by student demonstrators in November 1979.
GOLACINSKI: At one point, I thought they were going to burn me alive.
GRIFFIN: The Iranian revolutionaries would parade hostages, blindfolded in the streets and it would get worse.
GOLACINSKI: We went through mock executions. Some of them were large scale where they gathered about 20 of us, had us stand up against the wall and went through the ready, aim, fire in farzai (ph) and then you got a click. My fear wasn't being killed, that -- certainly that was a fear. My greater fear was being left in a dungeon for 20 or 30 years.
GRIFFIN: The Iranians hated President Carter, he said. The hostages would not be free until Carter was out of office that inaugural day.
GOLACINSKI: We were given to believe that this was the final payback to Jimmy Carter.
GRIFFIN: In those last hours, even as the hostages were being taken to the airport in Tehran, there was still uncertainty.
GOLACINSKI: You know, until we got on that plane, there was -- there was no sure thing. I mean, this went right down to the -- the very end in terms of the Iranian government.
GRIFFIN: In Washington, as President-elect Reagan was arriving at the church, he was asked about the hostages in Tehran. Still waiting, he said. Kaschak was still watching Hinckley as the crowd surged forward.
KASCHAK: And he kind of got knocked off balance, so to say, as the crowd kind of pushed up against the rope line and then, boom, the president was inside. And I turned around to look, to try to find him again in the crowd and I didn't see him. So I don't know what happened to him at that point.
GRIFFIN: Our producer asked Hinckley why didn't he shoot?
POLK: He said the limousine stopped too far away and there were too many people.
GRIFFIN: Ambassador Bruce Laingen was the top-ranking hostage in Iran. He never knew of Hinckley's attempt to shoot Reagan before he could be sworn in as president until we told Laingen almost 30 years later.
BRUCE LAINGEN, IRANIAN HOSTAGE: That could have changed everything. Even the attempt would have turned things possibly upside down.
GOLACINSKI: Worst-case scenario is that the Iranians say deal's off.
GRIFFIN: At noon, Reagan would take the oath of office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear.
REAGAN: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear.
GRIFFIN: During the ceremony, the plane took off in Tehran homeward bound.
KASCHAK: If he wouldn't have been inaugurated that morning, the hostages would have never been released.
GRIFFIN: Hinckley went home to the Denver suburbs. Only six days after the inauguration, he would sign in for gun practice at this basement shooting range.
Later, in Hinckley's home, the FBI would find this silhouette target three bullet holes around the heart.
TEXT: Stalker. "I'm not dangerous." John Hinckley Jr.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You talking to me?
GRIFFIN: At trial, the jury would be told John Hinckley had watched the movie "Taxi Driver" at least 15 times. The disturbed cabbie, like Hinckley, would practice on a gun range as part of a plan to assassinate this presidential candidate. But spotted by the Secret Service, he runs away. About the same time, the taxi driver becomes obsessed with this 12-year-old prostitute played by child actress Jodie Foster and offers to rescue her from life on the street.
JODIE FOSTER, ACTRESS "TAXI DRIVER": I don't know who's weirder, you or me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suck on this.
GRIFFIN: In the end, the cabbie kills her pimp and other predators. Then becomes a hero as the young girl is returned to her parents.
Early in March 1981, three weeks before he did shoot the president, John Hinckley would leave this note under the door of Jodie Foster's dorm room at Yale University.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jodie Foster love, just wait. I'll rescue you very soon. Please cooperate. J.W.H.
GRIFFIN: At 18, Jodie Foster had enrolled as a freshman at Yale in the fall of 1980. Hinckley followed her there. He phoned her twice late at night.
FOSTER: Who is this? Oh, no, who is this?
JOHN HINCKLEY: Is this Jodie?
FOSTER: Who is this?
HINCKLEY: This is John.
FOSTER: John who? Oh, no, not you again.
GRIFFIN: Hinckley tape recorded the calls.
FOSTER: Look, I really can't talk to you, OK? Do me a really big favor. You understand why I can't, you know, carry on these conversations with people I don't know? You understand that it's dangerous and it's just not done. It's not fair and it's rude.
HINCKLEY: Oh, well, I'm not dangerous. I promise you.
FOSTER: Well, I understand that but it's just -- it's the same thing. OK?
HINCKLEY: So you just don't ever want me calling again?
FOSTER: No, it's been really nice talking to you though.
GRIFFIN: A dozen days later, the dropout who said he was not dangerous began stalking then-President Jimmy Carter. Jerry Parr is the Secret Service agent in the dark suit. This TV footage was shot at a campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio, on October 2nd, 1980.
PARR: It shows him in a crowd and he and I and the president are about seven or eight feet apart. You could see a little short guy back in there.
GRIFFIN: One week later, Hinckley would be in Nashville, Tennessee, on the day the president was holding a rally at the Grand Ole Opry.
(on camera): Only a few miles away that same afternoon here at the Nashville Airport, Hinckley would be caught for the first time with guns in his possession as he tried to leave the city. Yet he would slip through the cracks, allowed to go free and fly away that same night.
(voice-over): When Hinckley put his bag on the belt in the gate area, a suspicious image showed up on the screen. Airport policeman John Lynch.
JOHN LYNCH, AIRPORT POLICEMAN: The bag did reveal a weapon.
GRIFFIN: Actually three revolvers. When Lynch opened Hinckley's bag, a .38, a pair of .22s. He sees the guns. Hinckley was arrested, taken to a downtown court and released on bond. The FBI was notified, but the Secret Service was never told.
PARR: We never made the connection. This business of protecting people is really, really difficult.
GRIFFIN: Only four days later, Hinckley visited this pawn shop in Dallas, Texas, buying two new guns like this one. Again, a pair of .22 revolvers plus bullets for just $99.00 with tax. It was this gun that Hinckley would use to shoot the president. Pawn shop owner Isaac Goldstein.
ISAAC GOLDSTEIN, PAWN SHOP OWNER: It hurts me that the gun was bought from me. It could have been bought anywhere.
GRIFFIN: That fall, Hinckley's well-to-do parents in this Denver suburb would have him start seeing a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, in November Hinckley would mail this anonymous letter to the FBI.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "There is a plot underway to abduct Jodie Foster from Yale University dorm in December or January. No ransom. She's being taken for romantic reasons. No joke."
GRIFFIN: By now, Hinckley's attention had turned from Carter to Ronald Reagan, the newly-elected president. Hinckley bought this postcard, Reagan with wife Nancy and wrote on the back,
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dear Jodie, Don't they make a darling couple? One day you and I will occupy the White House and the peasants will drool with envy. Until then, please do your best to remain a virgin. You are a virgin, aren't you? Love, John."
GRIFFIN: December 10, President-elect Reagan was staying at Blair House. John Hinckley lay and wait outside several times but never managed to be there when Reagan was coming or going.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:: William J. Casey to be director of central intelligence.
GRIFFIN: The next day, December 11, 1980, the new cabinet was announced at a news conference inside the Mayflower Hotel. Hinckley was somewhere in this crowd with a gun expecting Reagan to show up.
(on camera): Was he prepared to shoot the president?
POLK: He said, "Reagan was a no-show so that's why nothing happened."
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Hinckley went home for the holidays signing in at this basement gun range a few days after Christmas.
GRIFFIN: And again on the Monday after the inauguration day.
(on camera): Thirty years ago in the first week of March, John Hinckley came back to Yale for the last time, clearly more disturbed. At this dorm, he left that note for Jodie Foster. "Just wait, I'll rescue you very soon." Then on his final night here an hour after midnight, March 6, he shoved this farewell message under the door to her room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Jodie, goodbye. I love you six trillion times. Don't you maybe like me just a little bit? You must admit I'm different. It would make all of this worthwhile. John Hinckley, of course. "
GRIFFIN (voice-over): When Hinckley few back to Denver, his father forced him to stay at this low-cost motel, not allowed to come home until he got a job. At the end of the month, he rode a Greyhound bus back to Washington, D.C. Sunday, March 29, Hinckley checked in for the night at the Park Central Hotel one block from the White House. The next day, found on Hinckley's bed this newspaper opened to the president's daily schedule listing Reagan's speech at the Hilton Hotel.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TEXT: "I didn't know I was shot" Ronald Reagan.
GRIFFIN (on camera): March 30, 1981, this would be the sixth time John Hinckley, Jr. would stalk either President Carter or President Reagan over the last few months while armed and dangerous. This time he left no doubt. He planned to succeed.
(voice-over): In his hotel room, John Hinckley left behind this love letter to actress Jodie Foster. It began:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dear Jodie, there is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now."
GRIFFIN: Two days later at Yale, the freshman student would tell reporters she did not even know who he was.
FOSTER: I've never met, spoken to or in any way associated with one John W. Hinckley.
GRIFFIN: Even so, Hinckley writes about wanting to win her love and ends his letter this way:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodie, I'm asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historic deed to gain your respect and love. I love you forever, John Hinckley."
GRIFFIN: Shelly Fielman was the NBC cameraman waiting outside the hotel that afternoon.
SHELLY FIELMAN, : Not only was it a miserable day because it was raining, but when we got to the Hilton, there was one rope -- one rope line and that was for everybody.
GRIFFIN: You can see Fielman with his camera in front under the umbrella in this photo taken before Reagan arrived.
FIELMAN: And the rest of the people are just spectators, people who were at the hotel. And the young fellow back there just minding his own business over my right shoulder is a guy named Hinckley.
GRIFFIN: For Reagan, this was to be a routine speech to a labor organization.
REAGAN: Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.
GRIFFIN: As the president walked out, to his left in this photo, that's Jerry Parr, now Reagan's top Secret Service agent. In the background, the press and spectators.
Look at the cops. What are they looking at?
PARR: They're looking right at him.
GRIFFIN: At Reagan.
GRIFFIN: Instead of --
PARR: Away into the crowd.
GRIFFIN: The president on CNN ten years later.
REAGAN: I heard a noise when we came out of the hotel and was headed for the limousine and I heard some noise and I thought it was firecrackers.
GRIFFIN: This is Fielman's NBC video played at Hinckley's trial. You can see Reagan emerging from the hotel at the far right of the screen.
FIELMAN: Everything is so fast, it's almost like a blur.
GRIFFIN: Six shots in under two seconds.
Sergeant Herbert Granger was in charge of the local police detail.
HERBERT GRANGER: This is me coming out. Here he just waved. And as soon as he waved to the crowd across the street, there was this pop, pop.
GRIFFIN: Granger turned toward the sound. You can see Hinckley with the gun in this evidence photo.
GRANGER: He was kind of crouched and his arms fully extended out from the -- the rest of the crowd, just totally holding his arms out and looking over the gun and just going down in this motion but each time clicking off rounds.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did he ever say anything?
GRANGER: I never heard him say anything.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Prosecutors replayed the NBC cameraman's video for the jury in slow motion.
FIELMAN: The police officer was the first one shot because he turned around.
GRIFFIN: A Secret Service agent beside the car tried to shield Reagan.
FIELMAN: He jumps in front of the president, grabs his chest and he goes down.
GRIFFIN: The NBC cameraman reeled to his right and caught this split second image.
FIELMAN: You saw the two hands holding the gun.
GRIFFIN: Hinckley's hands still on the trigger.
GRANGER: Then I immediately lunged towards the gun.
GRIFFIN: Granger helped tackle Hinckley. This is you coming on top.
GRANGER: That's me, yes.
GRIFFIN: Secret Service agent Jerry Parr was already pushing Reagan into the car.
REAGAN: One of the Secret Service agents behind me just seized me here by the waist and plunged me headfirst into the limo.
PARR: And as we go in, I go in on top of him. I'm sure I hit my radio or my gun or something in the back.
REAGAN: And I said, Jerry, get off, I think you've broken a rib of mine. And he got off very quickly.
GRIFFIN: Inside the limo, Parr checked whether Reagan was all right.
REAGAN: I didn't know I was shot.
PARR: I ran my hands up under his coat and felt all around his belt with my hands.
GRIFFIN: You're feeling for blood.
PARR: Looking for blood. I took my hands out, no blood. I ran my hands up under his arms, no blood.
REAGAN: And just then, I coughed and I had a handful of bright red, frothy blood.
PARR: But he took out a napkin out of his pocket. He took it out and he spit up on it. There was a lot of blood that got on my London Fog raincoat. And he said, I think I've cut the inside of my mouth. And I said, let me look. And it was pretty profuse, bubbly, bright red.
REAGAN: So I said to him, I guess the broken rib has pierced a lung. Well, he simply turned and said, George Washington Hospital and we were on our way.
GRIFFIN: The first bulletin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We interrupt -- there's been a late development. Shots reported fired outside the hotel where President Reagan spoke a short while ago. Here's Bernard Shaw in our Washington bureau (ph).
BERNARD SHAW: Bob, as you can understand, details are very sketchy. We don't know precisely what happened -- pardon me. OK, my apology. Details are very sketchy at this moment. We don't know precisely what happened. We don't know the sequence. First of all, the president is safe.
GRIFFIN: At the hotel, John Hinckley, Jr. was buried beneath a heap of humanity.
FIELMAN: It was like a pyramid but there's a whole in this pile of people. So I zoomed into this hole and there's this picture of this guy, his eyes wide open looking at me.
GRIFFIN: Granger was pinned inside that pile with Hinckley. He felt something beneath his leg.
GRANGER: I pulled my leg out and that kicked out the gun.
GRIFFIN: You can see the gun on the sidewalk in this photo. Three men lay nearby, shot, wounded by Hinckley.
FIELMAN: Press secretary went down. He got shot in the head.
GRIFFIN: All three would survive, but press secretary Jim Brady would never be able to return to his White House post. Agents rushed Hinckley over to Granger's patrol car. The rear door would not open. He was hustled into a second police car and by nightfall John Hinckley had disappeared into custody for the next 30 years.
When the president's limo pulled up to the nearest hospital that day, Reagan wanted to walk inside.
PARR: He hiked (ph) his pants up and walked out.
GRIFFIN: This is a magazine artist's sketch of what happened next.
PARR: He walked in about maybe 18 to 20 feet, he collapsed.
REAGAN: And the nurse met me and I told her I was having a little trouble breathing and what I thought it was. And the next thing I knew then was my knees began to turn to rubber and I wound up on a gurney and --
PARR: And I thought when he was lying there on the gurney, I did think we had lost him.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Dr. Wesley Price was a resident in training at George Washington University Hospital the afternoon of the shooting. He happened to look out a window.
DR. WESLEY PRICE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Yes, there was a large group of black limos going around Washington Circle fast, so I knew something was up.
GRIFFIN: He headed down to the emergency room and saw the president of the United States.
PRICE: When I walked in, he was walking right in front of me, back to the trauma area. Well, they were carrying him in.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did he look like a sick man?
PRICE: He was pale, and he was definitely laboring in terms of his breathing. We didn't even know he had been injured, of course, right away. But it wasn't clear what happened to him. He didn't look very good. The very first blood pressure was extremely low.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): As Reagan lay on the gurney, nurses stripped off his clothes.
REAGAN: I was wearing a suit like this for the first time I'd ever worn it. It was brand-new, and they were taking scissors and cutting it off of me.
PRICE: We rolled him over to look at the back of his left side. There was an entrance -- a bullet entrance wound, no exit wound. The Secret Service was there. They were telling us there was a shooting. They didn't actually believe he had been shot.
PARR: They did something I didn't do, which was look at his armpit. It was a little slit, about a half inch long.
PRICE: Once we saw the entrance wound, we knew, obviously, that he had been shot.
GRIFFIN: Left behind at the shooting scene on the sidewalk, the military aide who always accompanies the president, carrying in this briefcase what's known as the "football," the secret codes to start a nuclear war. Richard Allen, Reagan's national security adviser, told us the wounded president had the final firing sequence.
RICHARD ALLEN, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He had a miniaturized version of the football with all that he needed on it. I knew he carried it on his body. I didn't know -- that it was in a sock was new to me that day. When the president's clothes were being removed in order to prepare him for surgery, they took his socks off, and out came the card, the little card, and it fell to the floor.
GRIFFIN (on camera): It's a good story, and it almost happened that way, but not quite. An agent in the room said the small card was actually in Reagan's coat pocket. Someone tossed it into a pile of ruined clothes in a corner, and the secret code to start World War III wound up in one of Reagan's shoes.
(voice-over): But Reagan on the gurney was in no position to react to any sudden foreign attack, and neither was his vice president, the first George Bush, who had flown to Texas that afternoon for a speech. At the White House, Secretary of State Alexander Haig called Bush, but his plane didn't have a secure phone line. Allen says Haig was trying to explain the crisis.
ALLEN: George, George, it's Al, Al Haig. Al Haig! Turn around. Turn around!
GRIFFIN: But Haig could not tell the vice president why. In the emergency room, Secret Service agent Jerry Parr worried Reagan might not live.
PARR: Blood pressure was so either low or minuscule that I felt he was slipping away from us.
GRIFFIN (on camera): He was going to die.
PARR: He was going to die.
GRIFFIN: You were looking at a president who was dying.
PARR: Absolutely. Yes, he was dying.
REAGAN: They said that I was very near going into a state of shock. And I had also lost more than half the blood in my body.
DR. JOSEPH GIORDANO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: It was probably around 40 percent, something like that.
GIORDANO: Yes. Yes, he lost a lot of blood.
GRIFFIN: Forty percent?
GIORDANO: Yes, at least.
GRIFFIN: In war, this is like bleeding out.
GIORDANO: Yes. Exactly right. That's the term we would use, he's bleeding out.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Seen here in 1981, Dr. Joseph Giordano was head of the trauma unit. He drained the blood flooding Reagan's lung and replaced it with transfusions.
GIORDANO: He had gone right to the White House, I'm sure 10, 15 minutes would have passed before he'd have gotten more definitive treatment, and I think that would have made the difference.
GRIFFIN (on camera): He would have died at the White House.
GIORDANO: He would have died. Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was Giordano, a Democrat, who answered the question Reagan asked in the operating room.
GIORDANO: He looked to me, and he says, I hope you're all Republicans. And I said to him, Yes, Mr. President, today we're all Republicans.
GRIFFIN: One hour after shooting, doctors wheeled Reagan down a corridor into surgery. His wife, Nancy, walked alongside, holding the president's hand.
GIORDANO: I said to myself, Boy, this better go right.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): At the very moment President Reagan was being wheeled into the operating room, his top cabinet officials convened a crisis meeting in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House.
(on camera): Right there.
ALLEN: Oh, look at that little tape recorder there.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): National security adviser Richard Allen put a cassette recorder on the table.
ALLEN: I'm sitting here, and the tape recorder's there in front of me.
GRIFFIN: As the tape rolled, cabinet officials worried whether the Soviet Union could have been behind the shooting.
FRED FIELDING, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We never knew if it was just one person at the time. We did not know.
GRIFFIN: White House counsel Fred Fielding.
FIELDING: The cold war was still pretty cold.
GRIFFIN: In Poland, a shipyard uprising had the Soviets on edge.
ALLEN: There were a larger number than usual -- double, as a matter of fact -- of Soviet submarines off our coasts.
GRIFFIN: On the tape, Secretary of State Alexander Haig asked Allen...
ALEXANDER HAIG, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have the football here, do we?
ALLEN: Right there.
I had a full copy of the football, which was the size of a menu, let's say a plastic menu.
GRIFFIN: A backup copy of those secret codes to start a nuclear war.
ALLEN: Well, it's on the table there someplace. It might even be that elongated folder right here.
GRIFFIN: Secretary of State Haig took command of the meeting.
HAIG: The helm is right here. That means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here.
GRIFFIN: Constitutionally, Haig was wrong. He was only third in line behind the vice president after two leaders in Congress.
FIELDING: But for the most part, when Haig was -- when Al Haig was carrying on like that -- I mean, I guess we just tolerated Haig.
GRIFFIN: Haig, now deceased, would soon make a worse blunder when spokesman Larry Speakes in the White House press room was asked this question.
QUESTION: Who's running the government right now?
GRIFFIN: Speakes did not answer that question. But Haig rushed up to the press podium to respond.
QUESTION: Who's making the decisions for the government right now? Who's making the decisions?
HAIG: Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order.
GRIFFIN: Wrong again. Then Haig said the words which haunted him the rest of his life.
HAIG: As of now, I am in control here in the White House and...
GRIFFIN: Allen, standing beside Haig, says he looked anything but in control.
ALLEN: His voice was crackly, high-pitched, full of tension. His knees were shaking behind the rostrum there and his elbows were shaking.
GRIFFIN: Back in the Situation Room, defense secretary Caspar Weinberger said the nearest Soviet submarine was close enough, a missile could reach the White House within 11 minutes. He moved B-52 bomber pilots closer to their aircraft.
CASPAR WEINBERGER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Until we know a little bit more about it, it's better to be in the plane than -- it saves three- and-a-half, four minutes -- than it is to stay in their quarters
GRIFFIN: Haig bristled. He just told the press the alert status remained unchanged.
HAIG: I said up there -- now, Cap, I'm not a liar. I said there had been no alert.
WEINBERGER: Well, I didn't know you were going up there. Oh, I think it's...
HAIG: I had to because we had the question already started and we were going to be in a big flap.
GRIFFIN (on camera): The irony, when this spat began, it was already two hours after the shooting. And had this been a foreign plot with a missile fired from that nearby sub, everyone in this building behind me would have been dead long before the meeting even began.
(voice-over): In the hospital, doctors need a second X-ray to locate the bullet inside the president's chest. They drew this diagram of what they found.
GIORDANO: And the bullet entrance wound was just under the left armpit. It went down, hit a rib, and then went back up. It's not unusual for bullets to ricochet off bones.
GRIFFIN: Here is a second, closer look.
(on camera): Eventually, where it ended up was very -- that's very close to the heart, right?
GIORDANO: Very close to the heart. Exactly right. This here is the wall, and this is the trajectory of the bullet after it ricocheted off the wall.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): How close to the heart?
GIORDANO: It's probably about an inch or so.
GRIFFIN: Another doctor performed the surgery. It took an hour to reach the bullet and pull it from the president's chest.
PRICE: He had some difficulty finding it in the long (ph), but he did. And then he took it out and they just dropped it right into a cup, a specimen cup.
GRIFFIN: By the time, Vice President Bush arrived back from Texas, the president was out of surgery and out of danger. In the recovery room, Reagan wrote notes on a clipboard, including this line comic W.C. Fields suggested for his own gravestone: "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
Just 12 days later, the president walked out of the hospital holding Nancy's hand. Beside them, the Secret Service who doctors say saved his life by rushing Reagan to the hospital.
GIORDANO: I always say that Jerry Parr was the one person who made a decision that really made the difference.
GRIFFIN: Jerry Parr had signed up for the Secret Service at a college job fair because of a movie he saw when he was only 8 years old.
PARR: Well, it was a movie about the Secret Service. And the main character was named Brass Bancroft.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Played by?
PARR: Ronald Reagan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: All right, chief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks. Sit down.
PARR: I did tell him about it once after the assassination attempt. And he told me, he said, Well, it was really the cheapest movie I ever made.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In the movie, Brass Bancroft goes into Mexico to break up a counterfeiting ring.
PARR: It was a terrible movie, if you look it up. It's still a terrible move.
GRIFFIN: Brass Bancroft is shot in the heart, his life spared when a book in his pocket stops the bullet.
(on camera): Cheapest movie he ever made, but eventually, it may have saved his life.
PARR: May have saved his life, true, 42 years later.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Coming up next, the Reagan limousine today.
PARR: We never realized this thing was going to end up saving -- helping to save the president's life.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ronald Reagan owed his life, at least in part, to his presidential limousine, now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. Code named Stagecoach, the limo is armor-plated, weighing six tons.
PARR: This is the first time I've seen the car probably since the incident. It actually looks bigger than I remember it. But it is the same car.
GRIFFIN: Secret Service agent Jerry Parr took us back in history. Unlike most cars, this limousine's rear passenger door opens toward the back, not the front.
PARR: And it was a good thing it opened that way because it opened out toward the assassin, which was Hinckley.
GRIFFIN: Otherwise, any one of John Hinckley's last three shots might have killed Reagan. Agent Tim McCarthy spread his body to take the first such bullet as Parr shoved the president into the limousine.
PARR: We never realized this thing was going to end up saving -- helping to save the president's life.
GRIFFIN: The rear window stopped the next shot.
PARR: Certainly, the door blocked the window shot. It did. Sure.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And where did that go?
PARR: The window shot was down in here somewhere.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The bulletproof glass held firm. You can see where that shot hit in this evidence photo. The final bullet struck here, on the right rear side of the car.
PARR: There's armor under that, steel, and it flattened out like a dime. As we were going into the car, it somehow got -- it flattened out and ricocheted and hit him as we were going in this way.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So just this little what, three-inch gap there?
PARR: Maybe a little three-inch gap, yes, about that, somewhere in there.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): This is a blown-up photo of the bullet taken from the president's body.
(on camera): That's the bullet that snuck through that crack.
PARR: It is.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A fluke shot through here, only a split second away from safety.
PARR: So we hear the shots. I grabbed his shoulder, start pushing him down. As his arms go out, then one of the bullets hits the side of the car and ricochets into his armpit, right here.
GRIFFIN (on camera): This is the one right here?
PARR: Right here.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Security changes would follow. Not until after the shooting did the government spend the money to buy magnetometers to check tourists going through the White House day after day.
PARR: And what we learned from putting magnetometers in at the White House was that a lot of very old ladies from all over the country on tours carried handguns.
GRIFFIN: One year after the shootings, John Hinckley, Jr., went on trial. His lawyers did not dispute the facts.
JOSEPH DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: He had no defense, It wasn't -- it wasn't me, because it clearly was John Hinckley.
GRIFFIN: Instead the defense argued insanity. At that time, federal law required the prosecution to prove otherwise. DIGENOVA: It's impossible to prove anyone sane in a court of law, certainly beyond a reasonable doubt.
GRIFFIN: The jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity.
DIGENOVA: That courthouse was in shock after that verdict.
GRIFFIN: Hinckley was committed to a government mental hospital, where 30 years later, he remains most of the time. But the courts have started giving him more freedom, periodic visits to Williamsburg, Virginia, staying in this resort community, where his mother lives, a gatehouse to keep out unwanted visitors, but still under Secret Service surveillance.
DIGENOVA: He is never free in the sense that no one is watching him.
GRIFFIN: This is John Hinckley, now in his mid-50s, with gray hair. It is likely in coming years, hospital doctors will recommend his full release. That worries this former prosecutor.
DIGENOVA: I think John Hinckley will be a threat for the rest of his life. I think he is a time bomb.
GRIFFIN: In the Ford Museum, just behind the Reagan limousine is the convertible in which President John F. Kennedy was shot to death in 1963, a hardtop restored to the car after that murder.
Starting with Abraham Lincoln at the end of the Civil War, nine presidents in and out of office have been targeted by gunfire, four of them killed.
(on camera): It has been 30 years since the last shots were fired at an American president, the longest such interval ever between assassination attempts. With each death, each near miss, protection has gotten better. Yet for the Secret Service, for any president, it remains a risk which comes with the oath of office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... so help you God.
REAGAN: ... so help me God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I congratulate you, sir.
PARR: I think for us, we have to live on an edge. We have to be willing, as they are, to lose their life. We have to give our life for that. It's like a tradeoff, whoever responds the first.
GRIFFIN (on camera): And you say that the presidents live with that same code.
PARR: I think they all know it.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Each and every day the Secret Service has to be very, very good. And some days, it needs to be very lucky.