That photo of President Ronald Reagan waving to onlookers was taken on Monday, March 30th, 1981. It was taken near the Washington Hilton in Washington D.C. just moments before an assassination attempt that rang through the country and the walls of Thruston Elementary School in Owensboro, KY.

President Reagan had just addressed the crowd at an AFL-CIO luncheon at the hotel and was exiting the building. He walked by a crowd of people who had gathered outside the hotel. They were just feet from the president and were separated from him by a rope. One of the people in that crowd was John Hinckley Jr. As you know, Hinckley opened fire on the president and his Secret Service detail.  He shot White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, Washington D.C. police officer Thomas Delahunty and, ultimately, Ronald Reagan. The President was actually struck by a bullet which ricocheted off the presidential limousine. That bullet punctured his lung, caused major internal bleeding and resulted in an emergency life-saving surgery.

You need to remember. In 1981, there was no social media. There were no cell phones. The news cycle was slow at best. Breaking news relied almost entirely on television and print journalism. However, my classmates and I at Thruston Elementary School heard the news from another source.


I don't remember exactly which classroom I was sitting in, but I distinctly remember the screams echoing down the halls. The mom of one of our classmates came barreling into the school. It was the mom of my friends Amanda and Michelle. I will never forget it. Ms. Webster ran down the first floor hallway of the school screaming that the president had been shot. We couldn't see her at first, but we could most certainly hear her.  I was too young really to understand the scope of what that news meant, but my friends and I were smart and aware enough to quickly realize that we were suddenly living through a moment of U.S. history. We could tell by Ms. Webster's desperation, screams and tears that the situation was dire. Though that was over 40 years ago, I still remember it. Honestly, I even get chills thinking about it.

My Thurston classmates will tell you that I probably have the most vivid memory of all of us. Oddly, I don't remember much about what happened next. I have a vague memory of our teacher wheeling in a television and turning on the news, but I am not totally sure if I watched the story unfold in school or on the TV at home. We all soon learned just how bizarre that story was.

Did John Hickley Jr. really try to assassinate the President of the United States because he had an infatuation with actress Jodie Foster? Yes. Yes, he did.

Today, there's a popular FB meme that asks "What is the first major news story you remember." For me, I have two. I distinctly remember being glued to the television during parts of the Iran hostage crisis, which started on November 4th, 1979- just one day before my 8th birthday.

As for my second major news story memory?  Ms. Webster made sure all of Thruston Elementary knew what happened to Ronald Reagan. She was a mighty messenger that day and I think all of my classmates still carry the weight of that moment with us.

KEEP READING: Scroll to see what the big headlines were the year you were born

Here's a look at the headlines that captured the moment, spread the word, and helped shape public opinion over the last 100 years.

Gallery Credit: Andrew Lisa