(NEW YORK) — More than 40 years after he shot President Ronald Reagan and three others, John Hinckley Jr. said he’s filled with remorse over his actions, but he’s ready to move forward with his life.
Hinckley, 67, spoke with “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang two weeks after he was released from federal supervision, and apologized to the families of his victims.
“I’m truly sorry. I really am,” he told “Nightline.” “I’m not sure they can forgive me, and I probably wouldn’t even blame them.”
While some of those close to Reagan are reluctant to accept Hinckley’s olive branch, he said he’s committed to proving to the world that he’s a changed and better man. And he supports laws that would prohibit others with mental health issues from getting access to guns.
On March 30, 1981, Hinckley, then 25, shot Reagan, police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and press secretary James Brady outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Regan had just delivered a speech to the AFL-CIO.
All four men survived. Reagan, however, was hospitalized for 12 days; Brady, who was shot in the head, was left with brain damage and was confined to a wheelchair after the incident; Delahanty developed permanent nerve damage to his left arm. McCarthy was also hospitalized and was the first victim to be discharged.
Brady, who went on to become a staunch gun control advocate as the co-founder of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, died in 2014.
Although the medical examiner ruled the death was a homicide and the cause of death to be a gunshot wound and its health consequences, Hinckley wasn’t charged in Brady’s death.
Hinckley was arrested shortly after the shooting and charged with the attempted assassination. He told investigators that he opened fire on the president to impress actress Jodie Foster. He told Nightline that he had no ill will against Reagan and called him ” a good, nice man,” who he thought “was a good president.”
Hinckley told “Nightline” that he was severely depressed, estranged from his family and in full despair when he plotted to shoot the president.
“It was in ways like a suicide attempt just saying, this is it. This is the end of my life,” he said.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity a year later in a jury trial and ordered to be confined at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., under psychiatric care. In 2016, he was allowed to leave the hospital into the care of his mother and with heavy restrictions, including a prohibition on him owning a gun or contacting any of his victims, their families or Foster.
In September 2021, a federal judge OK’d Hinckley’s unconditional release, which went into effect on June 15.
Although he’s barred from speaking with his victims, Hinckley told ABC News that he’s been remorseful for years and felt sad that his actions led to Brady’s years of pain. He shared that he prays every night that the Brady family has a good life.
“If I could take it back, I surely would,” he said.
Hinckley’s complete freedom from oversight is a study in rehabilitation, and comes at the intersection of the ongoing discussions over how the country is addressing mental health issues and the rise in gun violence.
Hinckley said he’s in favor of background checks and waiting periods to obtain a gun, especially with regard to people who are suffering, which were policies that were ushered by the Brady law.
“I think there are too many guns in America,” he said.
President Reagan publicly forgave Hinckley for the assassination attempt, but at least one member of Reagan’s family has not forgiven him.
Patti Davis, Reagan’s daughter, published an op-ed in the Washington Post in September, after the judge made the order to release Hinckley, and said she feared that he would contact her.
“I understand struggling for forgiveness, but it’s like peering out from between the prison bars. I don’t believe that John Hinckley feels remorse. Narcissists rarely do,” she wrote.
Danny Spriggs, a Secret Service agent on Reagan’s detail when the shooting happened, told ABC News that he also doesn’t accept Hinckley’s apology.
“I don’t think that sufficient accountability has been rendered in this particular case,” he said. “I wish him well. The bottom line is those words are easy said [and] now it depends on his actions.”
Hinckley contended that he’s not the same man he was in 1981. He told “Nightline” that in his 41 years of therapy he has “worked hard to overcome [his] illness,” and is confident he will stay on track. His medical team at St. Elizabeth’s, and the judge who released him, seem to agree.
Hinckley has voluntarily been taking his anti-anxiety medication and an anti-psychotic medication, continues to get therapy, and says he has a sound support system with his siblings.
“I just have a great mindset now that I don’t have the depression that I had. I don’t have the isolation that I had. And I just really feel good about things now,” he said.
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