US Secret Service releases Reagan shooting audio
Washington: In the frantic first seconds after the March 30, 1981 assassination attempt on then-US president Ronald Reagan, one of his bodyguards reassured his comrades that "Rawhide is okay”.
But Rawhide -- Reagan's code name -- was far from okay: He had been struck by one of the six bullets fired by would-be assassin John Hinckley after the projectile ricocheted off the president's armoured limousine.
So just over a minute after Special Agent in Charge Jerry Parr's initial message, Special Agent Thomas Unrue announces over the secure radio frequency: "We want to go to the emergency room of George Washington."
The US Secret Service on Friday released heretofore secret recordings of its communications of the attack 30 years ago, as well as a transcript and the edited results of an internal investigation into how it handled the shooting.
The 10-minute recording stretches from the moment he left a Washington hotel to just after then-first lady Nancy Reagan -- codenamed "Rainbow" -- arrives at the hospital, where Reagan was having emergency surgery.
The first indication that things have gone wrong comes 19 seconds into the recording, when Special Agent Ray Shaddick announces: "Advise, we've had shots fired. Shots fired. There are some injuries, uh, lay one on."
Sixteen seconds later, Parr says Reagan is "okay”. One minute and 12 seconds later, Unrue says the presidential motorcade has to divert to the hospital -- Reagan, according to one agent's recollection, had started coughing up blood.
"Go to George Washington fast," he says. "Get an ambulance, I mean, get them, um, stretcher out there."
But there was no stretcher: Reagan walked into the hospital "under his own power”, according to agents' recollections, but had to be carried once inside when his knees buckled.
Not quite seven minutes in, the first lady's protective detail calls in with word "we’re gonna leave with Rainbow and go to that location" -- race from the White House, dubbed "Crown”, to the hospital a few blocks away.
Reagan had been struck when one of the bullets bounced off his armoured presidential limousine, grazing a rib and finding its way to one of his lungs.
The internal review features repeated statements that the US Secret Service was "never notified of Hinckley's existence" despite news reports that he had threatened Reagan's life and offers a strenuous defence of their response.
"The Reagan Detail was certainly not lax, six shots were fired without a direct hit, the president was placed within the limousine within three seconds and it departed the area within 10 seconds," it says.
As for Hinckley, a civilian bystander was the first to strike him, but a secret service agent subdued the shooter "within two seconds”, according to the review.
In an official interview for the internal investigation, Parr said the motorcade was diverted when he observed Reagan "begin to spit up oxygenated blood”.
But Parr thought he had injured one of Reagan's ribs when he fell on top of the president in the race to get him into the limousine, and only learned at the hospital that he had been shot.
Presidents including Barack Obama -- whose codename has been widely reported to be "Renegade" -- still frequently attend events at the hotel where the shooting occurred, notably fundraisers and an annual dinner with journalists.