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John F. Kennedy assassination

John F. Kennedy

The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, took place on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, USA at 12:30 PM Central Standard Time (18:30 UTC). Kennedy was fatally wounded by gunshots while riding in a presidential motorcade within Dealey Plaza.

Two official investigations have concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza, was the assassin, with one government investigation concluding that Oswald acted alone and another concluding he acted with at least one other person.

Table of contents

Background to the Texas trip

Main article: Detailed timeline of the assassination of John F. Kennedy

Kennedy had chosen to visit Dallas on 22 November for three main reasons: to help raise more Democratic Party presidential campaign fund contributions in advance of the November 1964 presidential election; to begin his quest for re-election; and as the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had barely won Texas (and had lost Dallas) in 1960, he sought to mend political fences among several leading Texas Democratic Party members who appeared to be fighting politically amongst themselves.

The presidential limousine shortly before the assassination

There were concerns about security because U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been jeered, jostled, struck by a protest sign, and spat upon in a visit to Dallas on October 24. To prevent a recurrence, Dallas police had prepared the most stringent security precautions in the city's history.

It was planned that Kennedy would travel from the Love Field airport in a motorcade through downtown Dallas (including Dealey Plaza) to give a speech at the Dallas Trade Mart in suburban Dallas. The car in which he was traveling was a 1961 Lincoln Continental, open-top, modified limousine. Riding with Kennedy in the limousine were: his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy; Texas Governor John B Connally, Sr, and his wife, Nellie; Secret Service agent and White House Detail Team #3 Assistant in Charge, Roy Kellerman; and Secret Service agent and limousine driver Bill Greer. No presidential car with a bulletproof top was yet in service in 1963 (plans for such a top were presented in October 1963; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover already had three bulletproofed cars.)

In a November 22 Dallas newspaper there appeared a black-bordered, full-page advertisement paid for by Kennedy critics who were associated with the ultraconservative John Birch Society. Throughout Dallas, and especially along the motorcade route, several groups critical of Kennedy expressed their views and handed out flyers. A smattering of handmade protest signs were held aloft by motorcade viewers, but there were no major disturbances.

The assassination itself

Related article: Detailed timeline of the assassination of John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy, Jackie, and Gov. John Connally in the Presidential limousine shortly before the assassination.
The route taken by the motorcade within Dealey Plaza. North is towards the almost direct-left

The presidential motorcade traveled nearly its entire route without incident, stopping twice so Kennedy could shake hands with some Catholic nuns, then some school children. Shortly before the limousine turned onto Main Street a male ran towards the limousine, but was thrust to the ground by a Secret Service agent and hustled away. Just before 12:30 PM CST (18:30 UTC), Kennedy slowly approached the Texas School Book Depository head-on, then the limousine slowly turned the 120-degrees directly in front of the depository, now only 65 feet (20 meters) away.

When the limousine had passed the depository Kennedy was shot at for an estimated 6 to 9 seconds. During the shooting the limousine is calculated to have slowed from over 13 mph to only 9 mph. The Warren Commission later concluded that one of the three shots likely missed the motorcade, that the first to hit anyone went through Kennedy and likely also caused all of Connally's injuries, and the last to hit anyone opened a fatal wound in Kennedy's head. Nearly all agree that Kennedy was hit with at least two bullets, and was killed when shot in the head.

There was hardly any reaction in the crowd to the supposed first shot, many later saying they thought they had heard a firecracker or backfire. Only after Governor Connally was injured and had screamed, "No, no, no. They are going to kill us all!" did the gravity of the situation become clear to the Secret Service limousine driver, Bill Greer. During the attack Greer had turned very quickly to look behind him and towards the screaming governor and/or President, then turned forward again. He then turned very quickly again rearward (the limousine brake-lights were filmed illuminating at this point), and, besides Jacqueline Kennedy, driver Greer was the only occupant of the limousine actually facing Kennedy when he suffered the fatal head shot.

When Kennedy's head was struck, it moved slightly forward and down 1 to 2 inches (25 to 50 mm). The cause of what happened next is an issue that has kept people investigating the assassination. As the wound to the right side of his skull opened up, his right shoulder twisted forward and slightly upward, then his torso moved quickly backwards and to his left side, until he bounced off the rear seat vertical cushion and slumped lifelessly leftward towards his wife. Only after Kennedy was mortally wounded did the limousine then speed up to exit Dealey Plaza to proceed to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Others wounded

Texas Governor John Bowden Connally, Sr., riding in the same limousine in front of the president, was also critically injured but survived. His injuries occurred a split second after Kennedy's first injury (probably as a result of the same bullet, although this is still disputed by some). Doctors later stated that when Mrs. Connally pulled the governor onto her lap, the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound (which was causing air to be sucked directly into a collapsed lung). The action helped save his life.

James Tague, a spectator and witness to the assassination, also received a minor gunshot wound to his right facial cheek while standing 270 feet (82 meters) in front of where Kennedy was hit.

Recordings of the assassination

No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live, as the area through which the motorcade was traveling was not considered important enough to broadcast. KBOX-AM did recreate the sounds of the shooting for an LP record it released with excerpts of news coverage of that day, but it was not an original recording. Except for the media positioned at the rear of the motorcade, most media crews were waiting, in anticipation for Kennedy's arrival, at the Trade Mart.

However, Kennedy's last seconds of life through Dealey Plaza were recorded on silent 8mm film in the 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination by amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, in what became known as the Zapruder Film. The 486 frames of this film have been used in many studies, but the film has not been able to settle disputes concerning whether or not Oswald was the sole assassin.

For several minutes before, during, and after the assassination a Dallas police motorcycleman's radio microphone was stuck in the 'transmit' position and was recorded back at the police radio dispatcher's room on a Dictabelt.

Kennedy declared dead

Related article: Detailed timeline of the assassination of John F. Kennedy

Staff at Parkland Hospital's Trauma Room 1 who treated Kennedy observed that his condition was "moribund," meaning, he had no chance of survival upon arrival at the hospital. At 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC), after all heart activity had ceased and after a priest administered the last rites, the president was pronounced dead. "We never had any hope of saving his life," one doctor said. The priest who administered the last rites to Kennedy told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time the priest arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. Kennedy's death was officially announced some time later, at 1:38 PM CST (19:38 UTC). Governor Connally, meanwhile, was soon taken to emergency surgery where he underwent two operations that day.

A few minutes after 2:00 PM CST (20:00 UTC), and after a ten to fifteen minute confrontation with cursing and weapons-brandishing Secret Service agents, Kennedy's body was taken from Parkland Hospital and driven to Air Force One. The body was removed before undergoing a forensic examination by the Dallas coroner, which was against Texas state law (the murder was a state crime, and occurred under Texas legal jurisdiction).

Lyndon B. Johnson (who had been riding two cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade through Dallas and who himself also was briefly admitted to the hospital to check for possible injuries after Secret Service agents pushed him to the floor of his limousine) was first in line of succession to become President of the United States upon Kennedy's death. Johnson took the oath of office on board Air Force One before it departed Love Field.

The autopsy

After Air Force One landed just outside Washington DC, Kennedy's body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy. The autopsy was conducted by three military doctors and witnessed by over thirty military men. Two FBI men have since revealed that Kennedy had a large wound on the right side of his head, another wound 5.5 inches below his suit coat collar top just to the right of his spine, and a third wound centered in the front of his throat at the bottom edge of his adam's apple. (The Warren Commission report contains this same information.)

Several photos and x-rays were captured during the autopsy (several of which have disappeared from the official record). The autopsy photos are graphic. If you wish to view them, along with the skull x-rays, and medical drawings prepared by the Assassination Records and Review Board when it took testimonies from the Parkland Hospital medical witnesses, they are available here and here

Reaction to the assassination

Main article: Reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

The first hour after the shooting, before Kennedy's death was announced, was a time of great confusion. As it took place during the Cold War, some people at first wondered if the shooting were not part of a larger attack upon the USA, and there was concern about Vice-President Johnson's safety. In Washington, at 1:43 PM EST (12:43 CST, 18:43 UTC), just minutes after the attack, the telephone system service was overloaded and sporadic for 59 minutes. So many phone calls were placed in the New York phone exchange that operators were eventually forced to refuse calls. People began to huddle around radios and TV's for the latest bulletins.

The news of Kennedy's death by assassination shocked the world. In cities around the world, people wept openly. People clustered in department stores to catch TV coverage, and others prayed. Motor traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news of Kennedy's death spread literally from car to car. Schools across the USA and Canada dismissed students early. A misguided fury against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals.

Memorial services for Kennedy were held worldwide. The US Government declared a day of national mourning and sorrow for the day of Kennedy's state funeral, Monday, November 25 (which was his son John Kennedy Jr's third birthday). Many other countries did the same. The funeral was attended by 220 foreign dignitaries from 92 countries, including the Soviet Union. After the service, the casket was taken by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Lee Harvey Oswald

A mug shot of Oswald from a previous occasion on which he was arrested

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested eighty minutes after the assassination for killing Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit. He was charged with murdering Kennedy late that evening. Two days later while in police custody, Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby.

Official investigations

Dallas Police

After arresting Oswald and collecting physical evidence at the crime scenes, at 10:30 PM CST 22 November (04:30 UTC 23 November) Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry was ordered by, in his words, "people in Washington" to send all of the physical evidence found, but not Oswald, to FBI headquarters.

FBI investigation

The FBI was the first authority to complete an official investigation. On December 9, 1963, only 17 days after the assassination, the FBI report was issued and given to the Warren Commission while the FBI was still the primary investigating authority for the commission. The FBI stated that only three bullets were fired during the assassination; that the first shot hit President Kennedy, the second shot hit Governor Connally, and the third shot hit Kennedy in the head, killing him. The FBI stated that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots.

The Warren Commission

Main article: Warren Commission

The first official investigation of the assassination was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 29 1963, a week after the assassination. The commission was headed by Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States and became universally (but unofficially) known as the Warren Commission.

In late September 1964, after a 10 month investigation, the Warren Commission Report was published. The Commission reported that it could not find any persuasive evidence of a domestic or foreign conspiracy involving any other person(s), group(s), or country(ies), and that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The theory that Oswald acted alone is also informally called the Lone Gunman Theory.

The commission also concluded that only three bullets were fired during the assassination, and that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three bullets from the Texas School Book Depository behind the motorcade. The commission's determination was that:

  • one shot likely missed the motorcade (it could not determine which of the three),
  • the first shot to hit anyone struck Kennedy in the upper back, exited near the front of his neck and likely continued on to cause all of Governor Connally's numerous injuries, and
  • the last shot to hit anyone struck Kennedy in the head, fatally wounding him.

It noted that three empty shells were found in the sixth floor in the book depository, and a rifle identified as the one used in the shooting was found hidden nearby. Rather than accept that more than two shots caused injuries, the Commission offered as a likely explanation that the same bullet that wounded Kennedy also caused all of Governor Connally's wounds. This single bullet then backed out of Connally's left thigh and was found in nearly pristine condition. This theory has become known as the "Single Bullet Theory" or, the "Magic" Bullet Theory (as it is commonly referred to by its critics and detractors). Some ballistic evidence has suggested that such a bullet trajectory was possible, but this point is a source of much debate.

The Commission also criticized weaknesses in security, which has resulted in greatly increased security whenever the President travels. The supporting documents for the Warren Commission Report are not all due to be released until 2017.

The commission's findings have not gained majority acceptance from the general public in the USA, and many theories exist that conflict with its findings. Currently, there is no single theory with which a large majority of people would agree. However, most polls show that a most people do not agree with the Warren Commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations

Main articles: House Select Committee on Assassinations, Dictabelt evidence relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

An official investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), conducted from 1976 to 1979, concluded

that the scientific acoustical evidence established a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy. Other scientific evidence did not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President, but it did negate some specific conspiracy allegations.

Their conclusion was that four bullets were fired during the assassination and that President Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The HSCA concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the first, second, and fourth bullets, and that (based on the acoustic evidence) there was a high probability that an unnamed second assassin fired the third bullet (but missed) from President Kennedy's right front from a location concealed behind the Grassy Knoll picket fence, 9' to the west of the picket fence east corner (exactly where an image is seen in the Moorman #5 polaroid photo captured at Zf-315 to 316, but not seen seconds later). The HSCA's test firings within Dealey Plaza in 1978 also acoustically matched this same Grassy Knoll fence location 9' to the west of the picket fence east corner where several witnesses claimed to observe gunsmoke.

Summary of other evidence

Shot sequencing and origins

There was a clear consensus among the witnesses as to the number of shots: over 90% thought there were three or fewer shots. More witnesses thought the final two shots were bunched together than thought the shots were evenly spaced, or that the first two were bunched.

Of the witnesses who gave some testimony as to the source of the shots, 35 thought the shots came from the direction of the Grassy Knoll, 56 thought the shots came from the direction of the School Book Depository, eight thought the shots came from an entirely different location (including two who thought the shots came from inside the limo). Only five witnesses thought the shots came from two different locations.

Witnesses

Main articles: Testimony of the witnesses to the assassination of John F. Kennedy

On November 22, and in the months and years following the assassination, many witnesses in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination have come forward or have been identified, and have stated their observations about what happened during the crucial seconds of the attack. Many witnesses were known to investigators, but some were never called by the investigators to describe what they observed. Many witnesses who were photographed at the scene (including several photographers and film-makers) are still unknown and have chosen to not come forward and/or have died.

In many respects, the details of the events described by the identified witnesses match, but there are also conflicting details between information described by the witnesses. Some witnesses have also described details that no other witness has yet described. Among the important witness considerations were:

  • The reactions to the gunshots of all limousine occupants relative to each other and relative to what each limousine occupant testified they saw, heard, and felt during the assassination.
  • How many muzzle blasts a witness remembered hearing.
  • The origin of the muzzle blasts a witness remembered hearing.
  • The identities of two armed men and at least one other man seen on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
  • The identities of other potential witnesses, photographers, filmers and/or other located assassins and/or co-conspirators.

Conspiracy theories

Main article: Kennedy assassination theories

Many people dispute the claim that Oswald was an assassin, or the sole assassin. Investigations, scientific testing, and re-creations of the circumstances of Kennedy's death have not, in the American public's view, settled the question of who plotted to kill him. A 2003 ABC TV News poll showed that only 32 percent (plus or minus 3 percent) of Americans who expressed a view believe that Oswald acted alone in the Kennedy assassination [1]; a Discovery Channel poll revealed that only 21% believe Oswald acted alone. [2]; a History Channel poll gave a figure of 17%. [3]

Unreleased documents

Until 2017, tens of thousands of pages of documents will remain classified and sealed, away from the public's availability and research, including:

Additionally, several key pieces of evidence and documentation are known to have been cleaned or destroyed, or are missing from the original chain of evidence (eg. limousine cleaned out at hospital, Connally's suit dry-cleaned, Oswald's military file destroyed, President Kennedy's brain not accounted for, Connally's Stetson hat and shirt sleeve gold cufflink missing, forensic autopsy photos missing, etc.)

All documents related to the assassination that have not been destroyed are scheduled, according to the 1992 Assassinations Records Review Board laws, to be released to the public by 2017. Just before the 1964 presidential election, President Johnson ordered the Warren Commission documentations to be sealed against public availability until 2039.

On May 19, 2044, the 50th anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, if her last child has died, the Kennedy library will release to the public a 500-page transcript of an oral history about John F Kennedy given by Mrs Kennedy before her death in 1994.

Political Effects

Related article: U.S. presidential election, 1964

Life of the widow following the assassination

Related article: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

See also

External links








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