Who is Reagan shooter John Hinckley Jr.?

It's been 35 years since John Hinckley Jr. nearly killed President Ronald Reagan in a deranged attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster. In that time, the troubled would-be assassin has grown fond of art classes, begun volunteering at a local library and taken time to care for a small colony of cats living on the grounds of the hospital where he's spent the last three decades.

Here is some background on Hinckley's life before and after the assassination attempt.

PHOTOS: Assassination attempt on President Reagan

A wandering young man

Hinckley was born in 1956 in Evergreen, Colo., the son of a wealthy Denver oil executive. According to testimony given by his family at trial, the young Hinckley struggled to find a steady job or remain focused on schoolwork, and that restlessness led to a falling out between father and son less than a month before the shootings.

At Hinckley's 1982 trial, his mother described him as a reserved man with "no direction in his life." He attended classes at Texas Tech University in the late 1970s, but often wrote home and called his mother to talk about the severe depression he was feeling at college.

Hinckley, who aspired to be a writer or musician, dropped out of school on more than one occasion and struggled to maintain friendships, relatives said.

After he returned to Colorado in 1980, Hinckley's family pleaded for him to be placed in a mental facility, but the hometown psychiatrist who had been treating him advised against it.

The assassination attempt

Hinckley began to unravel after an encounter with his father at a Colorado airport in March 1981, less than a month before the shooting. As Hinckley returned from a trip to New York, he was met by his disappointed father, who told his son the family could no longer support him financially.

Weeks later, on March 30, Hinckley would step out of a crowd outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and open fire with a six-shot revolver as the president left a speaking engagement. Though he was not shot directly, Reagan was seriously wounded by a ricocheting bullet. A police officer and Secret Service agent also were struck by gunfire.

Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, suffered the most serious injuries when a bullet passed through his forehead and pierced the right side of his brain. Brady, who went on to become one of the leading voices for gun control in the U.S., suffered partial paralysis and permanently slurred speech as a result of his injuries.

Brady died last year, and local prosecutors ruled his killing a homicide, but Hinckley will not face additional charges in Brady's death.

Investigators later determined that the assassination attempt was a bizarre gambit to attract the affections of actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley had called Foster several times and written letters to her while she was a student at Yale University. He also penned an unsent letter to Foster in 1981, claiming he would try to win her affection by attempting to kill Reagan.

James Brady, press secretary to President Reagan, was left partly paralyzed by the gunfire that also wounded Reagan in 1981.
James Brady, press secretary to President Reagan, was left partly paralyzed by the gunfire that also wounded Reagan in 1981. ( Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Life at St. Elizabeths

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 after a jury agreed with defense attorneys' claims that he could not understand right from wrong when he shot Reagan. Hinckley was ordered to undergo treatment at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. His diagnoses included schizotypal and narcissistic personality disorders and major depression. 

His early years at St. Elizabeths were marked by a series of bizarre incidents. The government monitored Hinckley's mail until 1984, intercepting one series of exchanges in which a Chicago college student offered to kill Foster on his behalf.

Hinckley also attempted to correspond with serial killers Ted Bundy and Charles Manson and struck up a romance with a female patient who had been found not guilty of her daughter's slaying by reason of insanity. The two were engaged, but the woman was later released from the hospital.

In recent years, however, Hinckley has shown fewer and fewer symptoms of the illness that supposedly led him to carry out the attack on Reagan. Starting in 2006, Hinckley has been allowed to leave the hospital for up to 10 days at a time. He has visited his mother's Virginia home, where he often performed chores or played guitar. He also has been allowed to visit shops in and around Williamsburg, Va.

Hinckley has rarely been punished for abnormal behavior or for lying to his doctors in recent years, court documents show.

Not the first time

Hinckley is one of three would-be assassins who were deemed insane after making an attempt on a president's life.

Richard Lawrence, considered to be the first person to attempt to kill a sitting U.S. president, also was found to be insane after attempting to shoot Andrew Jackson in 1835. Lawrence's guns misfired.

Lawrence was in mental institutions until he died in 1861. He was one of the initial patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital, the facility where Hinckley resides, after it opened in 1855 and spent the rest of his life there, according to the Washington Post.

John F. Schrank, who was arrested after shooting former President Theodore Roosevelt, who refused treatment until after he delivered a 50-page speech, with a bullet still in his chest, in 1912. Schrank was also deemed insane and committed to an institution until he died 30 years later.

Release from the hospital

On Wednesday, Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled that Hinckley was ready to live in the community and would be allowed to leave the hospital to live full-time at his mother’s home in Virginia. 

Doctors have said for years that the now 61-year-old Hinckley is no longer plagued by the mental illness that drove him to shoot Reagan. 

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