Born in Oklahoma on May 29, 1955, John Hinckley Jr. suffered from depression and obsessive tendencies throughout his life. In the 1970s, Hinckley began stalking actress Jodie Foster. In 1981, he attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan of outside a Washington, D.C. hotel. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was placed in a mental institution.
Born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on May 29, 1955, John Warnock Hinckley Jr. became infamous in 1981 for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. This would-be assassin had seemingly normal childhood in his early years. He was the youngest of three children. His father was a successful businessman in the energy industry.
Hinckley and his family moved to Texas when he was just a few years old. From all reports, he was a good student and did well in sports, especially basketball and football. Things seemed to change for Hinckley in high school, however. He lost interest in sports and friends, choosing instead to play his guitar and listen to music alone in his room.
Troubled Young Man
After graduating high school, Hinckley attended Texas Tech University in the mid-1970s. He quit college in 1976 and moved to California. Hinckley aspired to be a songwriter, but his career never really got off the ground. Later that year, he moved in with his parents at their Colorado home. Hinckley drifted around over next few years, living in California and then in Texas. During this time, he became fascinated with the 1976 film Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. The film is about a disfranchised cabbie who wants to save a young prostitute and stalks a presidential candidate. Hinckley saw Taxi Driver up to 15 times.
Hinckley's interest in Taxi Driver evolved into an obsession with actress Jodie Foster. In 1979, he bought his first gun. Hinckley added to his collection over the coming years. He seemed to be struggling psychologically around this time, and he began taking antidepressants and sedatives. "My nervous system is shot," he wrote his sister, according to an article on TruTV's website. "I take heavy medication for it which doesn't seem to do much good."
In 1980, Hinckley moved back in with his parents in Colorado. He received some psychiatric treatment, but it didn't help improve his mental state. Still enthralled with Jodie Foster, Hinckley made several attempts to contact the actress. He was able to get her on the phone twice, but she rebuffed her his efforts to make a connection. To win her over, Hinckley came up with a strange scheme—killing a president. He first wanted to shoot President Jimmy Carter, but this plan foiled before he had a chance to get near the president. Hinckley later turned his attention to the next elected president of the United States.
On March 30, 1981, Hinckley made another attempt to impress Foster. He shot President Ronald Reagan and three other men outside of the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan was leaving the hotel after giving a speech to a gathering of union members when Hinckley fired several shots at the president and his entourage. Reagan's press secretary James Brady was the most severely wounded—he was struck in the head. A police officer was hit in the back, and a Secret Service agent was shot in the abdomen. Another of Hinckley's bullets pierced one of the president's lungs, narrowly missing his heart.
Reagan managed to walk into the hospital after Hinckley's attack. According to several reports, he explained to his wife Nancy Reagan that "Honey, I forgot to duck." He underwent surgery to repair his injured lung. Reagan made a full recovery, but James Brady wasn't as fortunate. He was left with permanent brain damage and confined to a wheelchair. Brady later became a well-known gun control advocate. When he died in 2014, Brady's death was ruled a homicide.
As for the failed assassin himself, Hinckley was taken into custody at the scene. He later explained that the shooting was "unprecedented demonstration of love" and that he and Foster were like "Romeo" and "Juliet," according to The New York Times. Hinckley was put on trial for his crimes the following year. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and then sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatry facility in Washington, D.C.
Patient at St. Elizabeth's Hospital
Hinckley was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital after his trial ended in 1982. Early on, he showed some strange interests. He was pen pals with convicted serial killer Ted Bundy before Bundy's execution in 1989. By the late 1990s, however, his parents claimed that their son had made progress in his recovery. He worked a clerical job within the hospital and was allowed to walk around freely through the institution. For many years, Hinckley had also a girlfriend, a former patient of the hospital. His parents fought for greater freedoms for their son.
In 1999, Hinckley was given to permission to have supervised visits with his parents outside of the hospital. He temporarily lost some of his privileges the following year after a book on Jodie Foster was found in his possession. In 2003, Hinckley was allowed to resume visits with his family. Since then Hinckley's family has continued to campaign for increasing his time away from the institution and for unsupervised visits. These efforts have been decried by Reagan's family, including his daughter, Patti Davis, and wife Nancy Reagan, over the years.
In July 2016, after being treated at St. Elizabeth's psychiatric hospital for 35 years, Hinckley has been deemed fit for release to live with his 90-year-old mother in Williamsburg, Va. For a number of years his supervised visits had gradually increased to 17 days a month. As part of the release plan, there will be numerous restrictions imposed on him, including close monitoring of his movements, limiting how far he is able to travel and providing authorities with access to his computer browsing history.
“The court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or to others if released on full-time convalescent leave to Williamsburg under the conditions proposed,” said U.S. District Judge Paul L Friedman of Washington in his 103-page opinion on the matter.
If Hinckley adheres to the rules, authorities may phase out all restrictions 12 to 18 months from his release, which is set to be in early August 2016.
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