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Timeline of the John F. Kennedy assassination

This article considers the detailed timeline of events before, during, and after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States.

Prelude

A presidential visit to the state of Texas was first agreed upon by Lyndon B. Johnson, his vice president and Texas native and by Texas native Governor John Connally while all three men were together in a meeting in El Paso, Texas on June 6, 1963. (In 1978 Connally testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that in the Spring of 1962 "Vice President Johnson told me then that President Kennedy wanted to come to Texas, he wanted to come to Texas to raise some money, have some fundraising affairs over the State.")

President Kennedy later decided to embark on the trip with three basic goals in mind: the president wanted to help raise more Democratic Party presidential campaign fund contributions; he wanted to begin his quest for re-election in November 1964; and, because the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had barely won Texas in 1960 (and had even lost in Dallas), President Kennedy wanted to help mend political fences among several leading Texas Democratic party members who appeared to be fighting politically amongst themselves.

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 announced to the public a few days before November 22.

During the third week of October 1963 Lee Harvey Oswald started working a seasonal, full-time job at the Texas School Book Depository as a $1.25/hour manual laborer ($7.64/hour in 2006 adjusted for inflation), filling customer orders for books. Oswald had secured the job after a referral by Ruth Paine, with whom Lee's wife, Marina Oswald, and the Oswald children were living, after a marriage separation. Ruth had also separated from her husband, Michael Paine, at about the same time.

On October 24, 1963, when on a visit to Dallas to mark U.N. Day, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was jeered, jostled, hit by a sign, and spat upon. Dallas Police were fearful that similar demonstrations were going to happen to Kennedy when he visited Dallas. Several people, including Stevenson, warned JFK against coming to Dallas, but Kennedy refused their advice. Police did increase the level of security during Kennedy's visit, putting into effect the most stringent security precautions in the city's history.

President Kennedy's Texas trip schedule

Thursday November 21

San Antonio--Dedication speech for U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base
Houston--Testimonial dinner at Rice University Stadium, honoring Congressman Albert Thomas
Fort Worth--Arrival at Texas Hotel

Friday November 22

Fort Worth--Chamber Of Commerce breakfast speech at Texas Hotel
Dallas--Luncheon speech attended by Dallas Citizens Council and Dallas Assembly at Trade Mart
Austin--Fundraising dinner speech at Municipal Auditorium
Johnson City--Weekend of relaxation at LBJ Ranch

November 22: Arrival in Dallas

On Friday, November 22, 1963, at 11:40 a.m. CST, Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and the rest of the presidential entourage arrived at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, aboard Air Force One after a very short flight from nearby Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. The motorcade cars had been lined up in a certain order earlier that morning but, just prior to Kennedy's arrival, the order of the vehicles was changed. The original schedule was for the president to proceed in a long motorcade from Love Field through downtown Dallas, and end at the Dallas Business and Trade Mart.

The motorcade was scheduled to enter Dealey Plaza at 12:25 p.m., followed by a 12:30 p.m. arrival at the Dallas Business and Trade Mart so President Kennedy could deliver a speech and share in a steak luncheon with Dallas government, business, religious, and civic leaders and their spouses. Dallas' three television stations were given separate assignments. As WFAA-TV 8 (ABC) was providing live coverage of the President's arrival at Love Field, KRLD-TV 4(CBS) was set up at the Trade Mart for Kennedy's luncheon speech. WBAP-TV 5(NBC), being a Dallas/Fort Worth network based in the latter, had done live coverage of the President's breakfast speech in Fort Worth earlier that day. On hand to report the arrival on radio was Joe Long of KLIF 1190.

Motorcade vehicles and personnel

Presidential Motorcade route

The route scheduled to be driven was as follows: left turn from the south end of Love Field to West Mockingbird Lane, right on Lemmon Ave, right at the "Y" on Turtle Creek Blvd, straight on Cedar Springs Rd, left on North Harwood St, right on Main St, right on Houston St, sharp left on Elm St, through Triple Underpass, right turn up ramp to North Stemmons Freeway, to Dallas Trade Mart at 2100 N. Stemmons.

The original route had the motorcade continue straight onto Main instead of turning onto Houston, but it was discovered that Elm Street provided the only direct link from Dealey Plaza to the Stemmons Freeway, thus the route was altered.

The presidential motorcade began its route without incident, stopping twice so President 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.

At 12:29 p.m. CST, the presidential limousine entered Dealey Plaza after a 90-degree right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street. Over two dozen known and unknown amateur and professional still and motion-picture photographers captured the last living images of President Kennedy.

Just before 12:30 p.m. CST, President Kennedy slowly approached the Texas School Book Depository head-on on Houston Street (this point in the route gives birth to one of the better conspiracy theories, that there were several shooters for if there was only a single shooter in the sixth floor in the Book Depository, the shooter would have had a much better view of the President on Houston Street coming towards the shooter, not when the President was moving away from the shooter on Elm Street), then the limousine made the 120-degree left turn directly in front of the depository, now only 65 feet (20 meters) away.

November 22: Assassination

According to witnesses, the shooting began shortly after the limousine made the turn from Houston onto Elm Street. It is not known with certainty when each shot was fired, but most experts agree that the President had been hit no later than the point at which he can be seen in the Zapruder film, first emerging from behind the Stemmons Highway sign. Several seconds later, he suffered a massive and fatal head wound and after being rushed to Parkland Hospital, was officially pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m.

During this time Governor Connally was also hit, although he survived after being treated at Parkland for wounds in the back, chest, wrist and left thigh. Although there is controversy about exactly when he was wounded, analysts from both the Warren Commission and H.S.C.A. (House Select Committee on Assassinations 1978) believed that his first reactions were simultaneous with President Kennedy's and consistent with their theory that the two men were struck by a single bullet. Like many other aspects of this case, this issue is highly controversial, and many critics have disputed those findings.

Breaking the news

From Dallas, local listeners of KLIF Radio were listening to The Rex Jones Show when they received the first bulletin at approximately 12:39 PM CST. A "bulletin alert" sounder faded in during the song "I Have A Boyfriend" by The Chiffons. The song was stopped and newscaster Gary Delaune made the first announcement over the bulletin signal:

This KLIF Bulletin from Dallas: Three shots reportedly were fired at the motorcade of President Kennedy today near the downtown section. KLIF News is checking out the report, we will have further reports, stay tuned.

Local viewers of Dallas' ABC-TV affiliate WFAA-TV 8 were watching The Julie Benell Show, a pre-recorded program on ladies' fashions when the station suddenly cut over to WFAA-TV program director Jay Watson, who was out of breath from running back to the station from Dealey Plaza:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You'll excuse the fact that I am out of breath, but about 10 or 15 minutes ago a tragic thing from all indications at this point has happened in the city of Dallas. Let me quote to you this [briefly looks at the bulletin sheet in his left hand], and I'll...you'll excuse me if I am out of breath. A bulletin, this is from the United Press from Dallas: President Kennedy and Governor John Connally have been cut down by assassins' bullets in downtown Dallas.


Those listening to the ABC Radio Network were the first of the national audience to receive word of the shooting from newscaster Don Gardner at 1:36 PM EST; his bulletin interrupted Doris Day's recording of "Hooray for Hollywood":

We interrupt this program to bring you this special bulletin from ABC Radio. Here is a special bulletin from Dallas, Texas. Three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today in downtown Dallas, Texas. This is ABC Radio.

Four minutes later, a CBS News Bulletin slide suddenly cut off the soap opera "As The World Turns" with Walter Cronkite's first report:

Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously: President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called 'Oh, no!', the motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.

At that time, the ABC and NBC networks weren't on the air. Various local programs were being broadcast through their affiliate stations. From their main headquarters in New York, WABC-TV's first bulletin came at 1:42 PM, interrupting "Father Knows Best." Three minutes later, Don Pardo broke into WNBC-TV's "Bachelor Father" with the news.

By 2:00 PM EST, all three networks suspended regular programming to relay as much detail as received. When the official announcement of the President's death was reported approximately 40 minutes later, no regular programs or commercials would be seen until the following Tuesday. Television, for the first time in its short history, ran coverage on a non-stop basis for four days. The assassination of Kennedy was the longest uninterrupted news event in the history of television until just before 9:00 a.m. ET, September 11, 2001, when the networks were on the air for 72 hours straight covering the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington three days earlier.

Immediate aftermath

Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald was confronted by an armed Dallas policeman, Marion Baker, in the depository second floor lunchroom only 74 to 90 seconds (according to a Warren Commission time recreation) after the last shot. Baker first testified that the shots he remembered hearing as he approached the depository originated from the "building in front of me, or, the one to the right". In the second floor lunchroom Oswald was identified by the superintendent of the building, Roy Truly, then released. Both Baker and Truly testified that Oswald appeared completely "calm, cool, normal, and was not out of breath in any way" and was not sweating. According to the Warren Commission, when Oswald was next seen - by a depository secretary on the first floor - he was carrying a soda bottle as he left the Texas School Book Depository at approximately 12:33 p.m. through its front door.

The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had traveled a minimum 346-foot distance from the sixth floor easternmost window, and hid an 8 pound, Italian-made 1938 Mannlicher-Carcano, 6.5 millimeter rifle equipped with a four-power scope along the way. The rifle was reported discovered by a Dallas police detective at 1:22 p.m., having been placed sometime sitting balanced upright on its bottom edges. After being discovered the rifle was photographed before ever being touched.

Authorities did not seal the Texas School Book Depository until 12:39 or 12:40 p.m.. Before that, policemen, detectives, witnesses, and others were first directed by persons to search the grassy knoll, parking lot, and railroad yard from 12:30 to 12:39 p.m.. The Dealey Plaza immediate area streets and blocks were never sealed-off either, and within only nine minutes of the assassination, photographs show that vehicles were still driving unhampered down Elm Street, through the crime scene kill zone.

At 1:00 p.m., after a bus and taxi ride (a taxi ride that he was witnessed offering first to an elderly woman), Oswald arrived back at his boarding room (1026 North Beckley St.) and according to his landlady Earlene Roberts, left at 1:03 or 1:04 p.m. when she last saw him standing and waiting at a bus stop.

At 1:15 to 1:16 p.m. (one nearby witness who actually looked at his watch stated 1:10 p.m.), Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit was shot dead near the intersection of 10th St. & Patton Ave., less than a mile from Oswald's rooming house. Thirteen people witnessed Oswald either shooting Tippit or fleeing the immediate scene. After the Tippit murder, Oswald was witnessed traveling on foot toward the Texas Theatre on West Jefferson Blvd.

At about 1:35 p.m. Johnny Calvin Brewer, who worked as a manager at Hardy's Shoe Store in the same block as the Texas Theatre on Jefferson Blvd. saw Oswald turning his face away from the street and duck into the entranceway of the shoe store as Dallas squad cars sirened up the street. When Oswald left the store, Brewer followed Oswald and watched him go into the Texas Theater movie house without paying while ticket attendant Julie Postal was distracted. Brewer notified Postal, who in turn informed the Dallas Police at 1:40 p.m.. Inside the theater, several witnesses saw Oswald shift to several different seat locations to sit next to different patrons.

Almost two dozen policemen, sheriffs, and detectives in several patrol cars arrived at Texas Theatre because they believed Tippit's killer was inside. (Minutes beforehand they had raided a nearby library on a similar, but mistaken report.) When an arrest attempt was made at 1:50 p.m. inside the theater, Oswald resisted arrest and, according to the police, attempted to shoot a patrolman after yelling once, "Well, it's all over now!" (or, according to other sources, "This is it!") then punching a patrolman. A policeman was witnessed to immediately yell, "Kill the president, will 'ya?!!"

At 3:01 p.m. Dallas time, only an hour after Oswald was taken into the Dallas jail, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote a memo to his assistant directors in which he stated, "I called the Attorney General at his home and told him I thought we had the man who killed the President down in Dallas, at the present time".

Kennedy

Meanwhile, the situation at Parkland Hospital had deteriorated. Even as the press contingent grew, a Roman Catholic priest had been summoned to perform the last rites for President Kennedy. Doctors worked frantically to save his life, but his wounds were too great. At 1:00 p.m. CST, after all the heart activity had ceased, and after the priest administered the last rites, President Kennedy was pronounced dead. Personnel at Parkland Hospital trauma room #1 who treated the president observed that the president's condition was "moribund", meaning he had no chance of survival upon arrival at the hospital. "We never had any hope of saving his life," one doctor said. The priest who administered the last rites to the president told The New York Times that the president was already dead upon the priest's arrival at the hospital and had to draw back a sheet covering the president's face so that the last rites could be given. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was soon taken to emergency surgery where he underwent two operations that day.

The new president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, ordered that the announcement of the President's death be made only after he left the hospital. He recalled: "I asked that the announcement be made after we left the room...so that if it were an international conspiracy...they would destroy us all. Although President Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:00 PM CST, the official announcement would not come for another half-hour. At approximately 1:33 PM CST, acting White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff made the official announcement in a hospital meeting room filled with press reporters and hospital staff members:

''"President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 CST today, here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain. I have no other details regarding the assassination of the president.

From the time the CBS affiliates joined Walter Cronkite in the news room at around 2:00 EST to approximately 2:38 EST, the coverage alternated from the CBS Newsroom to KRLD-TV's Eddie Barker at the Dallas Trade Mart where President Kennedy was to give his luncheon address. In the 15 to 20 minutes before Kilduff's official announcement, rumors of the President's death were broadcast on radio and TV. At approximately 2:11 EST, CBS News correspondent Dan Rather telephoned one of the two priests who performed last rites on Kennedy to confirm that he had indeed been shot. "Yes, he's been shot and he is dead," the priest told Rather. Almost simultaneously at the Trade Mart, a doctor went up to Barker and whispered, "Eddie, he is dead... I called the emergency room and he is DOA." Moments later, as the news cameras panned throughout the Trade Mart crowds, Barker gave this report:

As you can imagine, there are many stories that are coming in now as to the actual condition of the President. One is that he is dead; this cannot be confirmed. Another is that Governor Connally is in the operating room; this we have not confirmed.

Five minutes later, he repeated the claim, adding "the source would normally be a good one." During another report in which Barker again received unconfirmed word of the President's death, a Trade Mart employee is shown removing the Presidential seal from the podium where President Kennedy was to speak.

Rather then phoned CBS News officials in New York, telling executive Mort Dank, "I think he's dead." Despite that this was another unofficial report, CBS Radio newsroom supervisor Robert Skedgell wrote JFK DEAD on a slip of paper and handed it to CBS Radio news anchor Alan Jackson. At 2:22 EST, Jackson made the following announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States is dead. John F. Kennedy has died of the wounds he received in an assassination in Dallas less than an hour ago. We repeat, it has just been announced [sic] that President Kennedy is dead.

After the announcement, CBS (apparently trying to play the national anthem) inadvertently aired a brief excerpt of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings at the wrong speed. After a few seconds of silence, Jackson repeated the news:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States, is dead at the age of 46. Shot by an assassin as he drove through the streets of Dallas, Texas less than an hour ago. Repeating this, the President is dead, killed in Dallas, Texas by a gunshot wound.

This was followed by an excerpt from the first movement to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. After the music Jackson repeated the news, followed by "The Star Spangled Banner".

Five minutes later, after debating with CBS-TV News officials on the basis of Rather's information, Walter Cronkite relays the following bulletin:

"We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead. There is still no official confirmation of this, however. It's a report from our correspondent, Dan Rather, in Dallas, Texas."

At 2:38 EST, Cronkite spoke about fearful concerns of demonstrations in Dallas similar to the attack of U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in Dallas the previous month. At that moment, a CBS News employee seen in the background pulls off a sheet from the A.P. News ticker. He quickly relays it (off-camera) to Cronkite, who puts on his glasses, takes a few seconds to read the sheet, and makes the announcement:

From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: [reading AP flash] President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago. [Brief pause - Cronkite clears his throat, adjusts to the shock of the news] Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the thirty-sixth President of the United States.

At NBC, Chet Huntley, Bill Ryan and Frank McGee anchored from the New York newsroom, with reports from David Brinkley in Washington, NBC affiliate WBAP-TV (now KXAS-TV) in Fort Worth, Texas, and Robert MacNeil (via phone link) at Parkland Hospital. Throughout the first 35 minutes, there were technical difficulties with the Fort Worth TV relay as well as the phone link to the hospital. At approximately 2:35 PM, Huntley alluded to the last time a President had died in office when Ryan broke in with the first unofficial report of the President's death:

Chet Huntley: "In this momentary lull, I would assume that the memory of every person listening at this moment has flashed back to that day in April 1945 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt..."
Bill Ryan: "-- Excuse me, Chet. Here is a flash from the Associated Press, dateline Dallas: 'Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.' There is no further confirmation, but this is what we have on a flash basis from the Associated Press: 'Two priests in Dallas who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.' There is no further confirmation. This is the only word we have indicating that the President may, in fact, have lost his life. It has just moved on the Associated Press wires from Dallas. The two priests were called to the hospital to administer the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is from them, we get the word, that the President has died, that the bullet wounds inflicted on him as he rode through a motorcade through downtown Dallas have been fatal. We will remind you that there is no official confirmation of this from any source as yet."

McGee, on the telephone to a medical student holding the line at Parkland (MacNeil was at the hastily-scheduled press conference where Kennedy's death was about to be announced), then told the TV audience that Lyndon Johnson had just left the hospital in a motorcade, which Ryan said might well be confirmation of the AP flash. NBC then switched to Charles Murphy of WBAP-TV in Fort Worth, who substantiated the report by adding that the Dallas police department had, only several minutes earlier, notified its officers that Kennedy was dead. At 2:39 PM, McGee, who had been repeating MacNeil's previous reports in fragments on the air as the link had yet to establish an audio connection, announced that he had MacNeil on the line with another report from Parkland. The first part still had no audio:

White House (Acting) Press Secretary... Malcolm Kilduff... has just announced that President Kennedy... died at approximately 1:00 Central Standard time, which was about 35 minutes ago...

At this point, the audio finally came in. Unknown to McGee, he continued repeating the fragments:

...after being shot at (after being shot)... by an unknown assailant (by an unknown assailant) ...during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas (during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas).

After the phone call, McGee was seen wiping a tear from his eye.

From local radio station KLIF, Gary Delaune, Joe Long (who had reported the President's arrival at Love Field earlier from KLIF News Mobile Unit #4) and Gordon McLendon (having returned to the radio station from the Trade Mart) relayed the bulletins as received. They continuously stressed, as a strict radio station rule of McLendon's, whether the information received is from official or unofficial sources, especially concerning reports of the President's death. At approximately 2:38 PM, KLIF's Teletype sounds ten bells (indicating an incoming bulletin of utmost importance) and Long is given the official flash:

Gordon McLendon: "The President is clearly, gravely, critically, and perhaps fatally wounded. There are strong indications that he may already have expired, although that is not official, we repeat, not official. But, the extent of the injuries to Governor Connally is, uh, a closely shrouded secret at the moment..."
Joe Long: "President Kennedy is dead, Gordon. This is official word."
Gordon McLendon: "Ladies and gentlemen, the President is dead. The President, ladies and gentlemen, is dead at Parkland Hospital in Dallas."

A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. CST, and after a ten to fifteen minute confrontation between cursing and weapons-brandishing Secret Service agents and doctors, President Kennedy's body was removed from Parkland Hospital and driven to Air Force One. According to some Assassination researchers, this removal may have been illegal, as the body was removed before undergoing a forensic examination by the Dallas coroner, and against Texas state laws; The murder of the president was, at that time, listed on the books as a state-level crime and not a federal one, and as such legally occurred under Texas jurisdiction. To this date, however, no official legal body has ruled on this matter, quite possibly as the point is now somewhat disregarded.

Return to Washington

Once back at Air Force One, and only after Mrs. Kennedy and President Kennedy’s body had also returned to the plane, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in by Sarah T. Hughes as the thirty-sixth President of the United States of America at 2:38 p.m. CST.

At about 6:00 p.m. EST Air Force One arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. where Kennedy's casket was loaded into a light gray US Navy ambulance for its transport to the Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy and mortician's preparations. When Jackie Kennedy stepped off the plane, her pink suit and legs were still stained with her husband's blood. All that long afternoon and into the early morning hours of the next day, the widow objected to leaving her husband's body, except for the swearing in of Johnson. She also refused to change out of her blood-stained suit. "Let them see what they’ve done" she has been quoted by several persons as saying.

Shortly after the ambulance with the casket and Mrs. Kennedy departed, the new President and First Lady exited Air Force One. They were led to a podium clustered with microphones and Lyndon Johnson made his first official statement as President Of The United States:

"This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best; that is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's."

Charges laid on Oswald

At 7:05 p.m. CST Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with "murder with malice" in the killing of police officer J.D. Tippit.

At 11:36 p.m. CST Oswald was charged with the murder of President Kennedy (there being no crime of "assassination" at that time).

On November 24, 1963, in a memo J. Edgar Hoover wrote for the record, Hoover stated, "The thing I am most concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

On November 24, 1963, at 11:21 am CST, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby, sparing Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of appearing at Oswald's trial.

On a November 26, 1963 memo from Courtney Evans, the Assistant FBI Director (Mafia Section), to Assistant to the FBI Director, Alan Belmont, the F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover hand-wrote in the memo's margin, "Just how long do you estimate it will take? It seems to me we have all the basic facts now."

On December 9, 1963, only 17 days after the assassination, the FBI report was turned over to the Warren Commission theorizing that only three bullets were fired during the assassination; that the first shot hit Kennedy, the second shot hit Governor Connally, and the third shot hit Kennedy in the head, killing him. The FBI theorized that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots.

External links

References

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