Wallace Is Shot, Legs Paralyzed;
Suspect Seized at Laurel Rally
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 1972; Page A1
A young assailant dressed in red, white and blue shot Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama yesterday in the midst of a Laurel campaign rally, leaving him paralyzed in both legs.
Surrounded by a crowd of 1,000, the 52-year-old governor was shot at close range following his speech at the Laurel Shopping Center, about 14 miles northeast of Washington.
Wallace, campaigning in his third bid for the presidency, was hit in the chest and stomach by two bullets that caused four or five wounds.
At 2:15 a.m., a spokesman for Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring said the governor was "awake and alert" in the recovery room. "At this point, his progress is satisfactory," the spokesman said.
At 11 p.m., after five hours surgery, his wife told a press conference that, though he is seriously injured, "I feel very optimistic about him and you know his nature. He didn't earn the title of 'Fighting Little Judge' for nothing ... "
Mrs. Wallace said he was conscious through the ordeal, except while under surgery, and remains in good spirits. "I feel very good that he is alive and he has a sound heart and sound brain ... I couldn't thank God more for that," she said. Three persons traveling with Wallace were also wounded in the shooting.
Police immediately arrested a blond young man identified as Arthur Herman Bremer, a 21-year-old bus boy and janitor from Milwaukee, Wis. He was charged by state authorities with four counts of assault with intent to murder and was arraigned in Baltimore on two federal charges. One of the federal charges was interfering with the civil rights of a candidate for federal office, a provision of the 1968 Civil Rights Act. The Wallace second charge was for assaulting a federal officer; one of the four people shot at the rally was Secret Service officer.
According to Prince George's County police, no other persons are being sought and there is no evidence that other persons are involved.
First reports said that Wallace campaign materials and pornography were found in Bremer's Milwaukee apartment, but interviews with his family and friends produced no clear picture of his political leanings. Bremer was in the rally audience, dressed in a red, white and blue shirt and socks, wearing a Wallace campaign button. He had been seen earlier in the day at a Wallace rally in Wheaton.
Rivals of Wallace expressed horror at the shooting the fourth prominent American political figure to be gunned down in a decade. President Nixon swiftly ordered extra security precautions, dispatching Secret Service agents to guard Rep. Wilbur D. Mills and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, two previously unprotected candidates, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a non-candidate whose brothers both died by assassination.
Wallace was cut down about 4 p.m. while shaking hands with well-wishers on the parking lot of the shopping center. The governor, coatless under the afternoon sun, fell backwards on the pavement, red stains on his blue shirt. His wife, Cornelia, rushed to his side, crying and cradling his head in her hands. Her beige suit was smeared with his blood.
Eyewitnesses gave conflicting accounts of four to six shots fired at Wallace. Wounded with the governor were: his personal body guard, Alabama State Trooper Capt. E. C. Dothard, hit in the stomach; Dora Thompson, a Wallace campaign volunteer, 5106 59th Ave., Rogers Heights, Md., and hit in the leg, a Secret Service agent, Nick Zarvos.
One eyewitness in the crowd, Jack Ingram, 27, of Huntingtown, Md., described the encounter:
"I was standing to the governor's right, trying to get my hand in there," Ingram said, as Wallace moved down the rope cordon, shaking hands. The alleged assailant, said Ingram, was among those trying to get Gov. Wallace to approach close enough for a personal greeting.
"He kept yelling, 'Hey George! Hey George!'" Ingram recounted, then: "The man stuck the gun right in his stomach and fired."
Dr. Bryan Warren, 76, of Laurel, a spectator at the rally, heard the shots and went to Wallace's side.
"He was lying on his side," Dr. Warren said, "perfectly conscious and lucid, calm ... I pulled his shirt up and there was a gunshot wound in his lower right chest. It looked like it might have been a .32 or a .38 (caliber). I knew it had to hit the lower part of the lung and liver."
At first, policemen and aides rushed the governor to a nearby staff station wagon, then the ambulance arrived. "Right then," said Dr. Warren, "the governor said, 'I'm having trouble breathing,' and I felt his pulse again and I could feel no pulse. I was quite worried but there was nothing to do except let the ambulance take him away." According to a Laurel rescue officer, Gov. Wallace was conscious throughout the ride to the hospital. "He was very calm, he was in pain," said Sgt. Dennis Lunsford. "All he said was that he hurt."
At the scene of the shooting, a vast L-shaped shopping mall, the crowd of 1,000 turned from warm applause to sudden panic, screaming and running at the sound of gunfire "like firecrackers," the witnesses said, sharp and loud.
The gun was instantly knocked from Bremer's hands, he was wrestled to the ground and a swarm of eight or 10 Prince George's County police jumped on him and rushed him to a squad car. He was roughed up, slightly, according to the county prosecutor, but not seriously injured.
A CBS TV camera crew, filming the Laurel rally, found it had a film of a blond assailant approaching Gov. Wallace with gun in hand, firing five shots.
Until now, Gov. Wallace was riding a new crest of influence in his maverick political career. He had won three presidential primaries so far in 1972, was favored to win today in Maryland and Michigan, and is expected to have at least 10 per cent of all delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July.
Wallace and his unique, blunt style have exerted crucial leverage on national politics for eight years. The Wallace factor began when, as first-term governor in 1962, he "stood in the school house door" at the University of Alabama to block desegregation. It has evolved into a broader protest of "the little guy," less clearly associated with racial antagonism.
In 1964, he shocked national Democrats with strong showings in several primaries, including Maryland's, then withdrew form the field in favor of the Republican's nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater. Four years ago, he ran on a third party ticket, the American Independent Party, and finished with about 12 per cent of the vote short of his goal, but still potent.
The political impact of yesterday's shooting, though still unmeasured, is clear to this extent another American election year cast into the long traumatic shadow of political violence. Sen. Kennedy, whose brothers died that way, remarked yesterday "that tragedy has once again stained and darkened the process we use to select our political leaders."
President Nixon called Mrs. Wallace at the hospital to offer his comfort. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, one of Wallace's major opponents for the Democratic nomination, rushed to the hospital. So did Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.).
Both Humphrey and Sen. George McGovern, the principal rivals, have canceled all campaign activities indefinitely.
President Nixon asked the nation to join in prayer for the governor's safety and full recovery.
"We mush all stand together to eliminate this vicious threat to our public life," the President said. "We must not permit the shadow of violence to fall over our country again."
Last night, several hundred shaken Wallace supporters gathered for an evening rally at the Annapolis armory, but instead of Wallace's fiery oratory, they heard prayers.
"I asked them to pray for three things," said C. Maurice Weidemeyer, Wallace's Maryland campaign chairman. "Quick recovery, the soul of the fellow who did such a thing, and a tremendous victory tomorrow."
Wallace was harassed by hecklers and a few rocks and tomatoes were thrown during his four days of Maryland campaigning over the past two weeks, but polls and politicians figured he would probably finish first. As a volatile personality, he probably had a bit more protection than the other presidential candidates, since several Alabama troopers were traveling with him.
On the platform, he was protected by a three-sided armor-plated lectern, decorated with bunting. At Laurel, someone added a bouquet of long-stemmed roses. At least two Prince George's policemen were stationed on the shopping center rooftop, surveying for potential snipers, when Gov. Wallace's caravan arrived about 3:15 p.m., fresh from another rally at the Wheaton Plaza Shopping Center in Montgomery County.
As many as 50 policemen patrolled the rally site, set up in a roped-off area in front of the Equitable Trust Bank, which sits in the middle of the parking lot.
Before a larger crowd earlier at Wheaton Plaza, Wallace had been heckled persistently by young people. Someone threw a couple of tomatoes and Wallace answered obscene chants with: "Your vocabulary is mighty limited if that's all you can say is nasty words like that."
At the earlier rally, the governor retold his now-familiar remarks about crime and the nation's capital, words which rang heavily later: "It's a sad day in our country when you go to Washington, D.C., and can't go 100 feet from your hotel. It's not even safe in the shadow of the White House."
At Laurel, the mood was more pleasant and Wallace was more relaxed. He scoffed at the minor heckling: "I've got a book I want to give you," he said in a standard retort, "How to Behave in a Crowd."
Dozens of Wallace posters waved in the crowd of suburban Maryland followers. Little children scampered around the edged and pretty young volunteers wearing Wallace skimmers, red blazers and white slacks, passed around buckets for campaign contributions.
Billy Grammer and the Travel on Boys played the "Under the Double Eagle" march and the candidate mounted the two-foot-high rostrum. He took off his black raincoat and handed it to an aide, then launched into his favorite subject, school busing, including a well-received denunciation of The Washington Post.
"There's more pluperfect hypocrisy in Washington, D.C., and I mean among the politicians, than anywhere else in the United States," Wallace said, and the crowd cheered.
He seemed to lose his voice for a moment and paused to clear his throat, then apologized.
"It's been a long campaign," the candidate said.
Wallace touched on other themes bringing the troops back from Vietnam, "senseless and asinine" busing and then closed with his slogan: "You can send them a message."
"You can give 'em a case of St. Vitus Dance, and you know how to do it vote for George Wallace tomorrow," he concluded.
The crowd roared warmly. Wallace stepped back from the lectern and blew a kiss to the crowd, then gave a snappy salute, smiling broadly.
The sun broke from behind clouds as he finished at about 3:55 p.m. He handed his jacket to an aide, then responded to the spectators pressing in closer, begging for a handshake or autograph.
Flanked by security men, Wallace went of to his right and began autographing Wallace record albums. The crowd on the left side of the platform including the assailant began shouting "Over here, over here!" The governor's aides guided him across to the lefthand side where as many as 40 people pressed forward.
Then came the shots, first one, a quick pause, then two more, then maybe one or two more.
"He clutched himself," said Phyllis Chambers, 9609 Meadowlark Ave., Upper Marlboro. "I remember going toward him and his wife was there and he clutched himself."
The other three victims, all standing close by, were either hit directly or by ricochet. The Secret Service agent, Zarvos, was shot in the right side of the neck with the bullet lodged behind his jaw. He was reported in satisfactory condition at Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale where he was undergoing surgery.
Ross Spiegle, a 46-year-old crane operator from Laurel, and his wife, Mabel, said they stood next to the assailant during the rally. They were just shaking Gov. Wallace's hand when the shots were fired.
"I thought he was for Gov. Wallace," she said, "because when we would applaud, he would applaud. It just shocked me."
Police recovered a gun at the scene, described by Col. Tom Smith, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, as a 38-caliber, five-shot revolver with a two-inch barrel, purchased by Bremer in Milwaukee last January. It is now in the possession of the Secret Service.
Maryland police originally sent out a wanted message for a second man believed to be involved in the shooting, but later retracted it and said it was a mistake.
The crowd scattered, tipping over and mashing a table laden with Wallace campaign materials. George Mangum, the campaign's national coordinator, grabbed the microphone and pleaded for order: "If you're for him, please let us get through!"
Capt. Dothard, the wounded Alabama trooper, waved off assistance. "Take care of the governor, take care of the governor first," he shouted.
As the ambulance left with Wallace and his wife, the loudspeaker urged the crowd to disperse quietly. Gov. Wallace will live," his sound truck promised to the shocked crowd. "Just vote for Wallace on May 16."
Billy Grammer, he Grand Ole Opry singer, wept. "I've said all along, if they wanted to do something like this, they do it under these circumstances," Grammer said.
En route to the hospital, Wallace kept reassuring her (Mrs. Wallace) he was all right, according to his press secretary.
At the hospital, four doctors worked over the governor who received a transfusion of at least one pint of blood. Police and news reporters scuffled at the hospital entrance and a crowd of curious gathered.
© Copyright 1972 The Washington Post Company