President John F. Kennedy chose to travel to Texas to smooth over frictions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and Don Yarborough (no relation) and conservative John Connally.
A presidential visit to Texas was first agreed upon by Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (a Texas native), and Texas Governor John Connally while all three men were together in a meeting in El Paso on June 5, 1963.
President Kennedy later decided to embark on the trip with three basic goals in mind: 1.) to help raise more Democratic Party presidential campaign fund contributions; 2.) begin his quest for reelection in November 1964; and 3.) to help mend political fences among several leading Texas Democratic party members who appeared to be fighting politically amongst themselves since the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had barely won Texas in 1960 (and had even lost in Dallas).
President Kennedy's trip to Dallas was first announced to the public in September 1963. The exact motorcade route was finalized on November 18 and publicly announced a few days before November 22.
Route to Dealey Plaza
' photo of the Presidential limousine taken between the first and second shots that hit President Kennedy. Kennedy's left hand is in front of his throat and Mrs. Kennedy's left hand is holding his arm.
Polaroid photo by Mary Moorman
taken a fraction of a second after the fatal shot (detail).
Special Agent Clint Hill
shields the occupants of the Presidential limousine moments after the fatal shots. Note the effect of panning in the photograph.
Witness Howard Brennan
sitting in the identical spot across from the Texas School Book Depository four months after the assassination. Circle "A" indicates where he saw Oswald fire a rifle at the motorcade.
The assassination site on Elm Street in 2008. A white arrow indicates the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository
, and the white arrow on Elm Street is the spot where Kennedy was struck in the head. The structure to the right of the depository is the Dal-Tex Building
Kennedy's motorcade route through Dallas with Johnson and Connally was planned to give the president maximum exposure to local crowds before his arrival for a luncheon at the Trade Mart, where he would meet with civic and business leaders. The White House staff informed the Secret Service that the President would arrive at Dallas Love Field via a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth.
The Dallas Trade Mart was preliminarily selected as the place for the luncheon, and Kenneth O'Donnell, President Kennedy's friend and appointments secretary, had selected it as the final destination on the motorcade route. Leaving from Dallas Love Field, the motorcade had been allotted 45 minutes to reach the Trade Mart at a planned arrival time of 12:15 p.m. The itinerary was designed to serve as a meandering 10-mile (16-km) route between the two places, and the motorcade vehicles could be driven slowly within the allotted time.
Special Agent Winston G. Lawson, a member of the White House detail who acted as the advance Secret Service Agent, and Secret Service Agent Forrest V. Sorrels, Special Agent in charge of the Dallas office, were the most active in planning the actual motorcade route. On November 14, both men attended a meeting at Love Field and drove over the route that Sorrels believed was best suited for the motorcade. From Love Field, the route passed through a suburban section of Dallas, through Downtown along Main Street, and finally to the Trade Mart via a short segment of the Stemmons Freeway.
The President had planned to return to Love Field to depart for a fundraising dinner in Austin later that day. For the return trip, the agents selected a more direct route, which was approximately four miles, or 6.4 kilometers (some of this route would be used after the assassination). The planned route to the Trade Mart was widely reported in Dallas newspapers several days before the event, for the benefit of people who wished to view the motorcade.
To pass directly through Downtown Dallas, a route west along Main Street, rather than Elm Street (one block to the north) was chosen, since this was the traditional parade route and provided the maximal building and crowd views. The Main Street section of the route precluded a direct turn onto the Fort Worth Turnpike exit (which served also as the Stemmons Freeway exit), which was the route to the Trade Mart, as this exit was only accessible from Elm Street. Therefore, the planned motorcade route included a short one-block turn at the end of the downtown segment of Main Street, onto Houston Street for one block northward, before turning again west onto Elm, that way they could proceed through Dealey Plaza before exiting Elm onto the Stemmons Freeway. The Texas School Book Depository was situated at the northwest corner of the Houston and Elm Street intersection.
Three vehicles were used for Secret Service and police protection in the Dallas motorcade. The first car, an unmarked white Ford (hardtop), carried Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, Secret Service Agent Win Lawson, Sheriff Bill Decker and Dallas Field Agent Forrest Sorrels. The second car, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, was occupied by driver Agent Bill Greer, SAIC Roy Kellerman, Governor John Connally, Nellie Connally, President Kennedy, and Jackie Kennedy.
The third car, a 1955 Cadillac convertible code-named "Halfback", contained driver Agent Sam Kinney, ATSAIC Emory Roberts, presidential aides Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers, driver Agent George Hickey and PRS agent Glen Bennett. Secret Service agents Clint Hill, Jack Ready, Tim McIntyre and Paul Landis rode on the running boards.
On November 22 — after a breakfast speech in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy had stayed overnight after arriving from San Antonio, Houston, and Washington, D.C., the previous day — the president boarded Air Force One, which departed at 11:10 and arrived at Love Field 15 minutes later. At about 11:40, the presidential motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, running on a schedule about 10 minutes longer than the planned 45, due to enthusiastic crowds estimated at 150,000–200,000 people, and two unplanned stops directed by the president. By the time the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza, they were only five minutes away from their planned destination.
Shooting in Dealey Plaza
President Kennedy's open-top 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible limousine entered Dealey Plaza at 12:30 p.m. CST. Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas, turned around to the President, who was sitting behind her, and commented, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you," which President Kennedy acknowledged by saying "No, you certainly can't." Those were the last words ever spoken by John F. Kennedy.
From Houston Street, the presidential limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm, providing it access to the Stemmons Freeway exit. As the vehicle turned onto Elm, the motorcade passed by the Texas School Book Depository. Suddenly, shots were fired at President Kennedy as his motorcade continued down Elm Street. About 80% of the witnesses recalled hearing three shots.
A minority of the witnesses recognized the first gunshot they heard as weapon fire, but there was hardly any reaction to the first shot from a majority of the people in the crowd or those riding in the motorcade. Many bystanders later said that they heard what they first thought to either be a firecracker or the backfire of one of the vehicles shortly after the President had begun waving. Although some close witnesses recalled seeing the limousine slow down, nearly stop, or completely stop, the Warren Commission — based on the Zapruder film — found that the limousine had traveled an average speed of 11.2 miles per hour over the 186 ft of Elm Street immediately preceding the fatal head shot.
Within one second of each other, President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and Mrs. Kennedy all turned abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, between Zapruder film frames 155 and 169.World War II military veteran but unlike him, a longtime hunter. Connally testified that he immediately recognized the sound as that of a high-powered rifle, then he turned his head and torso rightward, attempting to see President Kennedy behind him. Governor Connally testified he could not see the President, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right to his left). The governor also testified that when his head was facing about 20 degrees left of center, he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet that he did not hear get fired. The doctor who operated on Connally measured his head at the time he was hit as having turned 27 degrees left of center. After Connally was hit, he shouted, "Oh, no, no, no. My God. They're going to kill us all!"
Connally, like the President, was a
Mrs. Connally testified that just after hearing a loud, frightening noise that came from somewhere behind her and to her right, she turned toward President Kennedy and saw him raise up his arms and elbows, with his hands in front of his face and throat. She then heard another gunshot and then Governor Connally yelling. Mrs. Connally then turned away from Kennedy toward her husband, at which point another gunshot sounded, and both she and the limousine's rear interior were covered with fragments of skull, blood, and brain.
According to the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Kennedy was waving to the crowds on his right with his right arm upraised on the side of the limo when a shot entered his upper back, penetrated his neck and slightly damaged a spinal vertebra and the top of his right lung. The bullet exited his throat nearly centerline just beneath his larynx and nicked the left side of his suit tie knot. He raised his elbows and clenched his fists in front of his face and neck, then leaned forward and left. Mrs. Kennedy, facing him, then put her arms around him in concern.
Governor Connally also reacted after the same bullet penetrated his back just below his right armpit. The bullet created an oval-shaped entry wound, impacted and destroyed four inches of his right fifth rib, and exited his chest just below his right nipple. This created a two-and-a-half inch oval-shaped air-sucking chest wound. That same bullet then entered his arm just above his right wrist and cleanly shattered his right radius bone into eight pieces. The bullet exited just below the wrist at the inner side of his right palm and finally lodged in his left inner thigh. The Warren Commission theorized that the "single bullet" struck sometime between Zapruder frames 210 and 225, while the House Select Committee theorized that it struck exactly at Zapruder frame 190.
According to the Warren Commission, a second shot that struck the President was recorded at Zapruder film frame 313. The Commission made no conclusion as to whether this was the second or third bullet fired. The presidential limousine then passed in front of the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure. The two investigative committees concluded that the second shot to hit the president entered the rear of his head (the House Select Committee placed the entry wound four inches higher than the Warren Commission placed it) and passed in fragments through his skull; this created a large, "roughly ovular" [sic] hole on the rear, right side of the head. The president's blood and fragments of his scalp, brain, and skull landed on the interior of the car, the inner and outer surfaces of the front glass windshield, the raised sun visors, the front engine hood, and the rear trunk lid. His blood and fragments also landed on the Secret Service follow-up car and its driver's left arm, as well on the motorcycle officers who were riding on both sides of the President just behind his vehicle.
Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill was riding on the left front running board of the follow-up car, which was immediately behind the Presidential limousine. Hill testified that he heard one shot, then, as documented in other films and concurrent with Zapruder frame 308, he jumped off into Elm Street and ran forward to try to get on the limousine and protect the President; Hill testified to the Warren Commission that after he jumped into Elm Street, he heard two more shots.
After the President was shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began climbing out onto the back of the limousine, though she later didn't have any recollection of doing so. Hill believed she was reaching for something, perhaps a piece of the President's skull. He jumped onto the back of the limousine while at the same time Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat, and he clung to the car as it exited Dealey Plaza and accelerated, speeding to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
After Mrs. Kennedy crawled back into her limousine seat, both Governor Connally and Mrs. Connally heard her repeatedly say, "They have killed my husband. I have his brains in my hand." In a long-redacted interview for Life magazine days later, Mrs. Kennedy recalled, "All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him saying, 'Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.' I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the [...]" The President's widow could not finish her sentence.
Governor Connally and a spectator wounded
Governor Connally was riding in the same limousine in a seat directly in front of the President and three inches more to the left than Kennedy; he was also seriously injured, but survived. Doctors later stated that after the Governor was shot, his wife pulled him onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound, which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung.
James Tague was a spectator and witness to the assassination. He received a minor wound to the right cheek while standing 531 feet (162 m) away from the depository's sixth floor easternmost window, 270 feet (82 m) in front of and slightly to the right of President Kennedy's head facing direction and more than 16 feet (4.9 m) below the top of the President's head. Tague's injury occurred when a bullet or bullet fragment with no copper casing struck the nearby Main Street south curb. A deputy sheriff noticed some blood on Tague's cheek, and Tague realized that something had stung his face during the shooting. When Tague pointed to where he had been standing, the police officer noticed a bullet smear on a nearby curb. Nine months later the FBI removed the curb, and a spectrographic analysis revealed metallic residue consistent with that of the lead core in Oswald's ammunition. Tague testified before the Warren Commission and initially stated that he was wounded on his cheek by either the second or third shot of the three shots that he remembered hearing. When the Commission counsel pressed him to be more specific, Tague testified that he was wounded by the second shot.
Aftermath in Dealey Plaza
Assassination witnesses Bill and Gayle Newman drop to the grass and cover their children.
The presidential limousine passed by the grassy knoll to the north of Elm Street at the time of the fatal head shot. As the motorcade left Dealey Plaza, police officers and spectators ran up the grassy hill and from the triple underpass, to the area behind a five-foot (1.5 m) high stockade fence atop the knoll, separating it from a parking lot. No sniper was found there. S. M. Holland, who had been watching the motorcade on the triple underpass, testified that "immediately" after the shots were fired, he saw a puff of smoke arising from the trees right by the stockade fence and then ran around the corner where the overpass joined the fence, but did not see anyone running from that area.
Lee Bowers, a railroad switchman who was sitting in a two-story tower, had an unobstructed view of the rear of the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll during the shooting. He saw four men in the area between his tower and Elm Street. That included a middle-aged man and a younger man, standing 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) apart near the triple underpass, who did not seem to know each other, and one or two uniformed parking lot attendants. At the time of the shooting, he saw "something out of the ordinary, a sort of milling around", which he could not identify. Bowers testified that one or both of the men were still there when motorcycle officer Clyde Haygood ran up the grassy knoll to the back of the fence. In a 1966 interview, Bowers clarified that the two men he saw were standing in the opening between the pergola and the fence, and that "no one" was behind the fence at the time the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who was sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, notified police that he was watching the motorcade go by when he heard a shot that came from above and looked up to see a man with a rifle take another shot from a corner window on the sixth floor. He said he had seen the same man looking out the window minutes earlier. Brennan gave a description of the shooter, and Dallas police subsequently broadcast descriptions at 12:45, 12:48, and 12:55 p.m. After the second shot was fired, Brennan recalled that "This man [he] saw previous was aiming for his last shot [...] and maybe paused for another second as though to assure himself that he had hit his mark."
As Brennan spoke to the police in front of the building, they were joined by Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr., two employees of the Texas School Book Depository who had watched the motorcade from windows at the southeast corner of the building's fifth floor. Norman reported that he heard three gunshots come from directly over their heads. Norman also heard the sounds of a bolt-action rifle and cartridges dropping on the floor above them.
Dallas police sealed off the exits from the Texas School Book Depository range approximately between 12:33 and 12:50 p.m.
There were at least 104 ear witnesses in Dealey Plaza who were on record with an opinion as to the direction from which the shots came. Fifty-four (51.9%) thought that all shots came from the Texas School Book Depository building. Thirty-three (31.7%) thought that they came from either the grassy knoll or the triple underpass. Nine (8.7%) thought that each shot came from a location entirely distinct from the knoll or the depository. Five (4.8%) believed that they heard shots from two locations, and 3 (2.9%) thought that the shots originated from a direction consistent with both the knoll and the depository.
The Warren Commission additionally concluded that three shots were fired and said that "a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together."
Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby
, just before firing a single shot into Oswald, who is being escorted by police detectives Jim Leavelle
(tan suit) and L.C. Graves for the transfer from the city jail to the county jail
Roy Truly, Lee Harvey Oswald's supervisor at the depository, reported him missing to the Dallas police. About 70 minutes after the assassination, Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. According to witness Helen Markam, Tippit had spotted Oswald walking along a sidewalk in the residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff, three miles from Dealey Plaza. Officer Tippit had earlier received a radio message that gave a description of the suspect being sought in the assassination, and he called Oswald over to the patrol car.
Markam testified that after an exchange of words, Tippit got out of his car and Oswald shot him four times. Multiple witnesses saw a man they identified as Oswald shoot Tippit or flee the scene after emptying the bullet casings from his gun. Oswald was next seen by shoe store manager Johnny Brewer "ducking into" the entrance alcove of his store. Suspicious of this activity, Brewer watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the nearby Texas Theatre without paying. Brewer alerted the theater's ticket clerk, who telephoned the police at about 1:40 p.m.
According to M.N. McDonald, who was one of the arresting officers, Oswald resisted arrest and was attempting to draw his pistol when he was struck and forcibly restrained by the police. He was charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Officer Tippit later that night. Oswald denied shooting anyone and claimed he was a patsy who was arrested because he had lived in the Soviet Union.
Oswald's case never came to trial. Two days after the assassination, as he was being escorted to a car in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters for the transfer from the city jail to the county jail, Oswald was fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The incident was broadcast live on American television at 11:21 a.m. CST on Sunday, November 24. Unconscious, Oswald was rushed by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same facility where doctors had tried to save President Kennedy's life two days earlier; he died at 1:07 p.m. Oswald's death was announced on a TV news broadcast by Dallas police chief Jesse Curry. An autopsy was performed by Dallas County Medical Examiner Dr. Earl Rose at 2:45 p.m. the same day. The stated cause of death in the autopsy report was "hemorrhage secondary to gunshot wound of the chest". Arrested immediately after the shooting, Ruby later said that he had been distraught over the Kennedy assassination and that killing Oswald would spare "... Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial."
An Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle (see 6.5×52mm Mannlicher–Carcano cartridge) was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone soon after the assassination of President Kennedy. The recovery was filmed by
Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV.
This footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano, and it was later verified by photographic analysis commissioned by the HSCA that the rifle filmed was the same one later identified as the assassination weapon. Compared to photographs taken of Oswald holding the rifle in his backyard, "one notch in the stock at [a] point that appears very faintly in the photograph" matched, as well as the rifle's dimensions.
The secondhand Carcano rifle had been purchased by Oswald in previous March, under the alias "A. Hidell" and delivered to a post office in Dallas where Oswald had rented a post-office box. According to the Warren Commission Report, a partial palm print of Oswald was also found on the barrel of the gun, and a tuft of fibers found in a crevice of the rifle was consistent with the fibers and colors of the shirt Oswald was wearing at the time of his arrest.
A bullet found on Governor Connally's hospital gurney and two bullet fragments found in the Presidential limousine were ballistically matched to this rifle.
President Kennedy declared dead in the emergency room
The staff at Parkland Hospital's Trauma Room 1 who treated President Kennedy observed that his condition was moribund, meaning that he had no chance of survival upon arriving at the hospital. George Burkley, the President's personal physician, stated that a gunshot wound to the skull was the cause of death. Burkley signed President Kennedy's death certificate.
The President was pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC) after all heart activity had ceased. Father Oscar Huber administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Father Huber told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. President Kennedy's death was officially announced by White House Acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff at 1:33 p.m. CST (19:33 UTC). Kilduff was acting press secretary on the trip because Pierre Salinger was traveling to Japan with half the Cabinet, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was taken to emergency surgery, where he underwent two operations that day.
Members of the President's security detail were attempting to remove Kennedy's body from the hospital when they briefly scuffled with Dallas officials, including Dallas County Coroner Earl Rose, who believed that he was legally obligated to perform an autopsy before the President's body was removed. The Secret Service pushed through and Rose eventually stepped aside. The forensic panel of the HSCA, of which Rose was a member, later reported that Texas law indicated that it was the responsibility of the justice of the peace to determine the cause of death as well as the necessity of whether an autopsy was needed to determine the cause of death. Theran Ward, a justice of the peace in Dallas County, signed the official record of inquest as well as a second certificate of death.
A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. CST (20:00 UTC), Kennedy's body was taken from Parkland Hospital to Love Field. His casket was then loaded onto Air Force One through the rear door, where it remained at the rear of the passenger compartment in place of a removed row of seats. Johnson had accompanied Kennedy to Dallas and was riding two cars behind the President in the motorcade. The new President refused to leave for Washington without Kennedy's remains and his widow.
At 2:38 p.m. CST (20:38 UTC), Lyndon Johnson, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, took the oath of office administered by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes on board Air Force One shortly before departing from Love Field for the flight back to Washington, D.C.
The autopsy was performed at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland; the procedure began at about 8 p.m. and ended at about midnight EST. The choice of autopsy hospital in the Washington, D.C., area was made at the request of Mrs. Kennedy, on the basis that John F. Kennedy had been a naval officer during World War II.