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50th anniversary of JFK's assassination

A moment
that changed everything

President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dealey Plaza while traveling through Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Here’s what happened, and how the events that day changed everything about how the Secret Service protects the president.

Remembering Kennedy

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President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the motorcade. (Associated Press)

Overcast morning skies cleared by the time Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrived in Dallas, but darkness would soon fall on an entire nation.

Step 1

12:29 p.m.
Kennedy arrives

From downtown Dallas, Kennedy's presidential limousine turns right onto Houston Street along the edge of Dealey Plaza, then left onto Elm Street at the Texas School Book Depository.

Comparing the cars

How the Secret Service has changed

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The modern presidential limousine is known as "The Beast." “Trying to compare the car that President Kennedy was in in 1963 to 'The Beast,' it would be like comparing a Conestoga wagon to a spaceship,” said W. Ralph Basham, who was director of the Secret Service from 2003 to 2006 and, before that, a Secret Service agent for 28 years. He currently works at Command Consulting Group.

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Step 2

12:30 p.m.
Oswald opens fire

The president’s open limousine is moving at approximately 11 mph along Elm Street toward the railroad bridge. Lee Harvey Oswald fires two or three shots from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, where he was a temporary employee.

How the Secret Service has changed

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Today, entire fronts of buildings along the route would be vacant and countersnipers and lookouts would be in place. “When [Secret Service agents] see something that may appear to be a weapon, they would have eliminated that threat,” Basham said.

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Step 3 The path of the magic bullet

Kennedy wounded

The first shot hits Kennedy, enters his back and exits below his throat, then continues through Texas Gov. John B. Connally’s chest and wrist before stopping in his left leg. Some claim that a single “magic bullet,” which was found nearly whole, could not have done so much damage. Later scientific analysis supports the Warren Commission’s single-bullet theory.

How the Secret Service has changed

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“You can’t quite visualize just what an easy shot it was,” said Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post reporter who is the author of “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.”

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Step 3 Two secret service agents riding on the car behind the Presidents limosine look to their right moments after the fatal shot. (James W. "Ike" Altgens, Associated Press)

Kennedy killed

About five seconds later, another shot strikes Kennedy's head, causing the fatal wound. In the photo at right, two of the Secret Service agents who were riding on the running boards of the car behind the president are shown at the moment of the fatal shot.

How the Secret Service has changed

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“JFK himself personally said he didn’t want agents riding on the rear running board of his limousine,” Kessler said.

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Step 5 Secret Service agent Clint Hill leapt onto the back of the limosine and pushed the first lady back into her seat. (James W. "Ike" Altgens, Associated Press)

About 12:31 p.m.
Limo speeds to hospital

The limousine driver speeds out of Dealey Plaza to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy is pronounced dead at 1 p.m. In the photo at right, Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumps onto the limousine as it leaves Dealey Plaza. When he was shot, Kennedy was near the end of a 10-mile parade route through Dallas.

How the Secret Service has changed

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“The Secret Service would try to do things in a more clandestine way,” Kessler said.

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Step 6 Lee Harvey Oswald in the Dallas police station on Nov. 23, 1963. (Associated Press)

12:33 p.m.
Oswald flees

Oswald slips out of the front door of the Texas School Book Depository but is captured after shooting a police officer about an hour and a half later, about three miles away at the Texas Theatre. Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby while in police custody.

How the Secret Service has changed

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“Instead of the 35 or 38 agents that were on the ground in 1963, there would be literally hundreds of people,” Basham said.

NOTE: Graphic drawn to scale. Presidential car enlarged for clarity.
SOURCES: The Warren Commission and staff reports. Photos by AP.
By Sohail Al-Jamea, Darla Cameron, Todd Lindeman and Gene Thorp. Published: Nov. 16, 2013.

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