The good news is that the would-be assassin’s aim was bad. Shielding the President with their own bodies, the Secret Service successfully hustled him off the stage before a second shot could be aimed and fired.
The bad news is that it was an audience of gun enthusiasts in an open carry state. When a very tall man stood up, pistol in outstretched hand, peering toward the back of the auditorium, three others thought he must be the assassin, and took him down in a hail of bullets. The coroner would later report finding a dozen wounds, only two of which were in vital organs. Four people standing behind the victim suffered minor flesh wounds.
The second-round shooters were toward the rear and widely spaced. People seated in front of them presumed that each was the assassin. At least two dozen, both men and women, turned and fired. Two of the three were hit and went down, exposing the people seated behind them. Police would later estimate that more than 100 shots were fired in the third round, and 27 people were hit.
By this time a uniformed sheriff reached the lectern. “STOP SHOOTING!” he thundered into the microphone.
An unreal hush fell over the auditorium, making audible the groans of those hit.
“Holster your weapons!” the sheriff ordered.
The entire auditorium seemed to squirm like jelly as guns were returned to carrying cases strapped to varying parts of bodies.
“Anyone who knows first aid, get to those people on the floor. Triage. Any vets, you know the drill. Ambulances are on the way.”
With surprising efficiency, those with the most serious but not mortal wounds were sorted out. Ambulances arrived and more were summoned. Doctors and EMTs took over from first aid volunteers. There were soon lines into all the rest rooms as people washed blood off their hands.
The President’s notes had been swept off the lectern. As the sheriff stooped to retrieve them, he could not help reading some of the over-sized type preferred for presidential speeches. “An armed population,” he saw, “is our best defense against terrorism and chaos.”
A Secret Service agent came back on stage, looking for anything that should be taken back to Air Force One. At the same moment, a reporter and photographer from the Morning Tribune jumped up to get an overview of the bloody tumult. “Are those pages the speech?” the reporter asked. “Give me a look, will you?”
The Secret Service man got there first. “I’ll take them.”
The sheriff hesitated only a moment, then handed them over. “Tell the President,” he said, “that he needs a new speechwriter.”
Retired after four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don Noel received my MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. Don’s work has so far been chosen for publication by Calliope, Shark Reef, Drunk Monkeys, The Tau, Indian River Review, Midnight Circus, Oracle, Clare Literary Magazine, The Raven’s Perch, The Violet Hour, Literary Heist, Dime Show Review, Yellow Chair Review, Meat for Tea, The Penmen Review, 99 Pine Street, BLYNKT Magazine, KYSO Flash, Darkhouse Books, Simone Press and Zimbell House.