THE BLOG
11/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ford's Lucky Day Revisited

It's been 34 years since Sara Jane Moore stood on a sidewalk 40 feet away from the back door of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco with a gun in her hand and assassination in her heart.

After all this time, the Secret Service is still trying to understand the mind of that 45 year old woman, mother and doctor's wife who aimed and shot at the head of the President of the United States.

Sara Jane Moore did not then, and still has not, fit any potential assassination profile. Which is why, after 34 years, there is a Secret Service agent whose job it is to unravel the logic and use that information to protect our new president, Barack Obama.

Forget everything you ever read or heard about Sara Jane Moore and her motives, her aim or that she was not serious. None of that is true. She missed because she was using a faulty gun she bought in haste that same morning as she was heading for the hotel. You see, her own gun, a .44 Charter Arms revolver, had been confiscated the day before, when the San Francisco Police and the Secret Service had her in custody for making threats against the president.

Yet, they let her go only to allow her to buy another gun and fulfill her mission. It's just lucky she did not have a chance to test it, as Richard Vitamanti, the FBI case agent said to me in an interview, history would be different. "She had him between the eyes."

Here is what happened that day:

Ford enjoyed meeting people, saying hello to them, and being true to his belief in being a public president. "The people do not want their president locked away in a bunker somewhere. They want him visible where they can see him and know he is there," President Ford explained to me in an interview.

He said he'd stood still for a moment when he came out, deciding whether to cross the street so that he could shake hands with the people lined up on the north side of the street.

At that moment, Sara Jane raised the .38 to shoulder height in her right hand, bracing it with the left, cup-and-saucer style. Sara Jane said she could see Ford's lined forehead centered in her sight.

The popping sound of the shot reverberated between the buildings on Post Street. The bullet ricocheted off the wall just behind Ford, ripping a scar five feet eleven and a half inches above the ground and sending chips of concrete flying.

She raised the gun again to take her second shot and at that moment Oliver Sipple, an ex-marine who had been standing nearby in the crowd, knocked her arm down. She never got off another shot.

Geri Spieler is the author of Taking Aim At The President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford.