For kids too young to remember the horror of Dallas in 1963, the events of Monday set off a torrent of questions and left a series of graphic television images that will last a lifetime.
"It was the kind of television segment you would have expected to be preceded with an announcment, 'parental guidance suggested,'" commented Sharon Purcell, eighth-grade social studies teacher at Alice Deal junior High School here. "Unfortunately, this was news, not fiction."
The children's questions ran the gamut, from the profound to the down-to-earth.
Why are political leaders constantly the target of assassins in America, but not in England, France or Japan?
Shouldn't the president always wear a bullet-proof vest when he leaves the White House?
Why was there so much attention given to the president when it was "the other man who was dying"?
Was it necessary to make other sick people get out of the emergency room to make way for the president?
How could Mrs. Reagan have looked so composed when she got to the hospital?
And finally, what if the assailant had been black?
"I'm just so happy that he wasn't," said a black teen-ager. "If a black person had killed him that would just make us suffer more -- but we're still going to suffer."
At Alice Deal yesterday, social studies teachers were encouraged to let it all come out -- to help the kids grapple with the trauma they had witnessed in all its graphic terror on their home television screens.
The result undoubtedly reflected many of the questions, opinions and concerns that their generation of teen-agers was voicing across the country.
For their parents, who had seen it all before in the shootings of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr. and George C. Wallace, it was shocking enough. The kids were no strangers to violence either, having grown up with daily doses of it on the evening news. But there was a special horror in having it happen just a few miles away, having the president involved and having it broadcast in vivid color only a few minutes after it occurred.
Reagan is not popular at Deal, with an enrollment of blacks, Hispanics and white children of professional people and government officials.
Yet Purcell said she believed that the shooting sequence on television helped children see beyond their stereotype of Reagan and feel for him as a human being.
"Some of them said they felt glad when they first heard about it but changed their minds when they saw the television shots and realized he was human," said Purcell.
Not all of them did change their minds. In another class three out of 24 students raised their hands when the teacher asked if any chidlren wished Reagan had been killed.
It was hard to separate the showoffs from the serious. One boy said that the suspect "should be set free so if he missed the frist time he could get him the second."
Somewhat more typical were the remarks of a black 14-year-old:
"A lot of people were really happy that Reagan got shot yesterday. I can't blame them because of all the cuts and everything. But I don't think anybody likes to see him brutally murdered."
Among children interviewed at Deal there was widespread suspicion that the shooting involved some kind of a conspiracy, and there was considerable doubt that the suspect would live to be tried.
"The Mafia's involved in this," said a Hispanic eighth grader.
Another eighth grader said it was a plot by Vice President Bush "to get into power," and if Bush becomes president, "the CIA would be in charge of the country."
Another kid predicted that "there's going to be a hit man shoot this guy who's in jail."
But beyond the occasional bursts of tough talk there were plenty of signs that teen-agers were focusing on the human aspects of the tragedy and thinking deply about what the violence meant for the country.
"America better shape up or it's going to go right down the drain," said one, who added that congress should "do something about handgun before it gets outrageous."
In watching rebroadcasts of the shooting and the excitement at George Washington University Hospital, many children reacted emotionally.
The special handling that the president enjoyed in the emergency room disturbed several.
"I know he's the president but he's no better than anybody else," commented one girl. A boy classmate was even more upset that, when the Reagan party found others waiting for treatment in the emergency room, "they told people to just get the hell out of there."
There was a great deal of concern whether press secretary James S. Brady was getting adequate care, but also some expressions of understanding that the president got most of the attention on television because "his job can affect all our lives."
Among the black kids the overriding emotion seemed to be one of thankfulness that the assailant was white, and from a well-to-do family.
"Could you imagine what would have happened if it had been a black person who shot the president? There'd have been a riot," said a girl. "We can just be thankful about that."