President Kennedy traveled to Texas to smooth over frictions in the Democratic Party between liberals Ralph Yarborough and Don Yarborough (no relation) and conservative John Connally.
President Kennedy's motorcade route through Dallas was planned to give him maximum exposure to local crowds before his arrival, along with Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally, at a luncheon with civic and business leaders in that city. The White House staff informed the Secret Service that the President would arrive there via a short flight from Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth to Dallas Love Field.
The Dallas Trade Mart had been preliminarily selected for the luncheon and the final decision of the place as the end of the motorcade journey was selected by President Kennedy's friend and appointments secretary Kenneth O'Donnell. Leaving from Dallas Love Field, 45 minutes had been allotted for the motorcade to reach the Trade Mart at a planned arrival time of 12:15 p.m. The actual route was chosen to be a meandering 10-mile (16-km) route between the two places, which could be driven slowly in the allotted time.
Special Agent Winston G. Lawson, a member of the White House detail who acted as the advance Secret Service Agent, and Secret Service Agent Forrest V. Sorrels, Special Agent in charge of the Dallas office, were most active in planning the actual route. On November 14, both men attended a meeting at Love Field and drove over the route that Sorrels believed best suited for the motorcade. From Love Field, the route passed through a suburban portion of Dallas, through Downtown along Main Street, and finally to the Trade Mart via a short segment of the Stemmons Freeway.
For the President's return to Love Field, from which he planned to depart for a fundraising dinner in Austin later that day, the agents selected a more direct route, which was approximately four miles, or 6.4 kilometers (some of this route would be used after the assassination). The planned route to the Trade Mart was widely reported in Dallas newspapers several days before the event, for the benefit of people who wished to view the motorcade.
To pass through Downtown Dallas, a route west along Dallas' Main Street, rather than Elm Street (one block to the north) was chosen, because this was the traditional parade route, and provided the maximal building and crowd views. The route on Main Street precluded a direct turn onto the Fort Worth Turnpike exit (which served also as the Stemmons Freeway exit), which was the route to the Trade Mart, because this exit was only accessible from Elm Street. The planned motorcade route thus included a short one-block turn at the end of the downtown segment of Main Street, onto Houston Street for one block northward, before turning again west onto Elm, in order to proceed through Dealey Plaza before exiting Elm onto the Stemmons Freeway. The Texas School Book Depository was situated at this corner of Houston and Elm.
Three vehicles were used for Secret Service and police protection in the Dallas motorcade. The first car, an unmarked white Ford (hardtop), carried Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, Secret Service Agent Win Lawson, Sheriff Bill Decker and Dallas Field Agent Forrest Sorrels. The second car, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, held driver Agent Bill Greer, SAIC Roy Kellerman, Governor John Connally, Nellie Connally, President Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy.
The third car, a 1955 Cadillac convertible code-named "Halfback", contained driver Agent Sam Kinney, ATSAIC Emory Roberts, presidential aides Ken O'Donnell and Dave Powers, driver Agent George Hickey and PRS agent Glen Bennett. Secret service agents Clint Hill, Jack Ready, Tim McIntyre and Paul Landis rode on the running boards.
On November 22, after a breakfast speech in Fort Worth, where President Kennedy had stayed overnight after arriving from San Antonio, Houston, and Washington, D.C., the previous day, the president boarded Air Force One, which departed at 11:10 and arrived at Love Field 15 minutes later. At about 11:40, the presidential motorcade left Love Field for the trip through Dallas, running on a schedule about 10 minutes longer than the planned 45, due to enthusiastic crowds estimated at 150,000–200,000 people, and two unplanned stops directed by the president. By the time the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza, they were only five minutes away from their planned destination.
At 12:30 p.m. CST, as President Kennedy's uncovered 1961 Lincoln Continental four-door convertible limousine entered Dealey Plaza, Nellie Connally (the First Lady of Texas) turned around to President Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and commented, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you," which President Kennedy acknowledged by saying "No, you certainly can't." Those were the last words ever spoken by John F. Kennedy.
From Houston Street, the presidential limousine made the planned left turn onto Elm Street, allowing it access to the Stemmons Freeway exit. As it turned on Elm, the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository. Shots were fired at President Kennedy as his motorcade continued down Elm Street. About 80% of the witnesses recalled hearing three shots.
A minority of the witnesses recognized the first gunshot they heard as weapon fire, but there was hardly any reaction to the first shot from a majority of the people in the crowd or those riding in the motorcade. Many later said they heard what they first thought to be a firecracker, or the backfire of one of the vehicles, shortly after the President began waving.
Within one second of each other, President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and Mrs. Kennedy all turned abruptly from looking to their left to looking to their right, between Zapruder film frames 155 and 169. Connally, like the President a World War II military veteran (and, unlike him, a longtime hunter), testified that he immediately recognized the sound of a high-powered rifle, then he turned his head and torso rightward, attempting to see President Kennedy behind him. Governor Connally testified he could not see the President, so he then started to turn forward again (turning from his right to his left). Connally also testified that when his head was facing about 20 degrees left of center, he was hit in his upper right back by a bullet he did not hear fired. The doctor who operated on Connally measured his head at the time he was hit as turned 27 degrees left of center. After Connally was hit he shouted, "Oh, no, no, no. My God. They're going to kill us all!"
Mrs. Connally testified that just after hearing a loud, frightening noise that came from somewhere behind her and to her right, she turned toward President Kennedy and saw him raise his arms and elbows, with his hands in front of his face and throat. She then heard another gunshot and then Governor Connally yelling. Mrs. Connally then turned away from Kennedy toward her husband, at which point another gunshot sounded and she and the limousine's rear interior were covered with fragments of skull, blood, and brain.
According to the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as Kennedy waved to the crowds on his right with his right arm upraised on the side of the limo, a shot entered his upper back, penetrated his neck, slightly damaged a spinal vertebra and the top of his right lung, and exited his throat nearly centerline just beneath his larynx, nicking the left side of his suit tie knot. He raised his elbows and clenched his fists in front of his face and neck, then leaned forward and left. Mrs. Kennedy, facing him, then put her arms around him in concern.
Governor Connally also reacted after the same bullet penetrated his back just below his right armpit, creating an oval entry wound, impacted and destroyed four inches of his right fifth rib, exited his chest just below his right nipple, creating a two-and-a-half inch oval sucking-air chest wound, entered his arm just above his right wrist, cleanly shattered his right radius bone into eight pieces, exited just below the wrist at the inner side of his right palm, and finally lodged in his left inner thigh. The Warren Commission theorized that the "single bullet" (see single-bullet theory) struck sometime between Zapruder frames 210 to 225, while the House Select Committee theorized that it struck exactly at Zapruder frame 190.
According to the Warren Commission, a second shot struck the President at Zapruder film frame 313. The Commission made no conclusion as to whether this was the second or third bullet fired. The presidential limousine was then passing in front of the John Neely Bryan north pergola concrete structure. The two investigative committees concluded that the second shot to hit the president entered the rear of his head (the House Select Committee placed the entry wound four inches higher than the Warren Commission placed it) and, passing in fragments through his head, created a large, "roughly ovular" [sic] hole on the rear, right side. The president's blood and fragments of his scalp, brain, and skull landed on the interior of the car, the inner and outer surfaces of the front glass windshield and raised sun visors, the front engine hood, the rear trunk lid, the followup Secret Service car and its driver's left arm, and motorcycle officers riding on both sides of the President behind him.
Secret Service Special Agent Clint Hill was riding on the left front running board of the follow-up car, which was immediately behind the Presidential limousine. Hill testified that he heard one shot, then, as documented in other films and concurrent with Zapruder frame 308, he jumped off into Elm Street and ran forward to try to get on the limousine and protect the President. (Hill testified to the Warren Commission that after he jumped into Elm Street, he heard two more shots.)
After the President had been shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began to climb out onto the back of the limousine, though she later had no recollection of doing so. Hill believed she was reaching for something, perhaps a piece of the President's skull. He jumped onto the back of the limousine while at the same time Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat, and he clung to the car as it exited Dealey Plaza and accelerated, speeding to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
After Mrs. Kennedy crawled back into her limousine seat, both Governor Connally and Mrs. Connally heard her say more than once, "They have killed my husband," and "I have his brains in my hand." In a long-redacted interview for Life magazine days later, Mrs. Kennedy recalled, "All the ride to the hospital I kept bending over him saying, 'Jack, Jack, can you hear me? I love you, Jack.' I kept holding the top of his head down trying to keep the ..." The President's widow could not finish her sentence.
Governor Connally, riding in the same limousine in a seat in front of the President and three inches more to the left than the President, was also seriously injured but survived. Doctors later stated that after the Governor was shot, his wife pulled him onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound (which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung).
James Tague, a spectator and witness to the assassination, also received a minor wound to his right cheek while standing 531 feet (162 m) away from the Depository's sixth floor, easternmost window, 270 feet (82 m) in front of and slightly to the right of President Kennedy's head facing direction, and more than 16 feet (4.9 m) below the top of the President's head. Tague's injury occurred when a bullet or bullet fragment with no copper casing struck the nearby Main Street south curb. A deputy sheriff noticed some blood on Tague's cheek, and Tague realized something had stung his face during the shooting. When Tague pointed to where he had been standing, the police officer noticed a bullet smear on a nearby curb. Nine months later the FBI removed the curb, and a spectrographic analysis revealed metallic residue consistent with that of the lead core in Oswald's ammunition. When Tague testified to the Warren Commission and was asked which of the three shots he remembered hearing struck him, he stated it was the second or third shot. When the Warren Commission attorney pressed him further, Tague stated he was struck concurrent with the second shot.
The presidential limousine was passing a grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street at the moment of the fatal head shot. As the motorcade left the plaza, police officers and spectators ran up the knoll and from a railroad bridge over Elm Street (the triple underpass), to the area behind a five-foot (1.5 m) high stockade fence atop the knoll, separating it from a parking lot. No sniper was found. S. M. Holland, who had been watching the motorcade on the triple underpass, testified that "immediately" after the shots were fired, he went around the corner where the overpass joined the fence, but did not see anyone running from the area.
Lee Bowers, a railroad switchman sitting in a two-story tower, had an unobstructed view of the rear of the stockade fence atop the grassy knoll during the shooting. He saw a total of four men in the area between his tower and Elm Street: a middle-aged man and a younger man, standing 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) apart near the triple underpass, who did not seem to know each other, and one or two uniformed parking lot attendants. At the time of the shooting, he saw "something out of the ordinary, a sort of milling around", which he could not identify. Bowers testified that one or both of the men were still there when motorcycle officer Clyde Haygood ran up the grassy knoll to the back of the fence. In a 1966 interview, Bowers clarified that the two men he saw were standing in the opening between the pergola and the fence, and that "no one" was behind the fence at the time the shots were fired.
Meanwhile, Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who was sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, notified police that as he watched the motorcade go by, he heard a shot come from above, and looked up to see a man with a rifle make another shot from a corner window on the sixth floor. He said he had seen the same man minutes earlier looking out the window. Brennan gave a description of the shooter, and Dallas police subsequently broadcast descriptions at 12:45 p.m., 12:48 p.m., and 12:55 p.m. After the second shot was fired, Brennan recalled, "This man I saw previous was aiming for his last shot ... and maybe paused for another second as though to assure himself that he had hit his mark."
As Brennan spoke to the police in front of the building, they were joined by Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr., two employees of the Texas School Book Depository who had watched the motorcade from windows at the southeast corner of the fifth floor. Norman reported that he heard three gunshots come from directly over their heads. Norman also heard the sounds of a bolt-action rifle and cartridges dropping on the floor above them.
Estimates of when Dallas police sealed off the exits to the Texas School Book Depository range from 12:33 to after 12:50 p.m.
Of the 104 ear witnesses in Dealey Plaza who were on record with an opinion as to the direction from which the shots came, 54 (51.9%) thought that all shots came from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository, 33 (31.7%) thought that all shots came from the area of the grassy knoll or the triple underpass, 9 (8.7%) thought all shots came from a location entirely distinct from the knoll or the depository, 5 (4.8%) thought they heard shots from two locations, and 3 (2.9%) thought the shots came from a direction consistent with both the knoll and the depository.
Additionally, the Warren Commission concluded that three shots were fired and said that "a substantial majority of the witnesses stated that the shots were not evenly spaced. Most witnesses recalled that the second and third shots were bunched together."
Lee Harvey Oswald was reported missing to the Dallas police by Roy Truly (his supervisor at the Depository) and was arrested about 70 minutes after the assassination for the murder of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. According to witness Helen Markam, Tippit had spotted Oswald walking along a sidewalk in the residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff, three miles from Dealey Plaza. Officer Tippit had earlier received a radio message that gave a description of the suspect being sought in the assassination and called Oswald over to the patrol car.
Markam testified that after an exchange of words, Tippit got out of his car and Oswald shot him four times. Oswald was next seen by shoe store manager Johnny Brewer "ducking into" the entrance alcove of his store. Suspicious of this activity, Brewer watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the nearby Texas Theatre without paying. Brewer alerted the theater's ticket clerk, who telephoned the police at about 1:40 p.m.
According to M.N. McDonald, who was one of the arresting officers, Oswald resisted arrest and was attempting to draw his pistol when he was struck and forcibly restrained by the police. He was charged with the murders of President Kennedy and Officer Tippit later that night. Oswald denied shooting anyone and claimed he was a patsy who was arrested because he had lived in the Soviet Union.
Oswald's case never came to trial because two days later, while being escorted to a car for transfer from the Dallas City Jail to the Dallas County Jail, he was fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, live on American television at 11:21 a.m. CST on Sunday, November 24. Unconscious, Oswald was rushed by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same facility where doctors had tried to save President Kennedy's life two days earlier; he died at 1:07 p.m. Oswald's death was announced on a TV news broadcast by Dallas police chief Jesse Curry. An autopsy was performed by the Dallas County Medical Examiner at 2:45 p.m. the same day. The stated cause of death in the autopsy report was "hemorrhage secondary to gunshot wound of the chest". Arrested immediately after the shooting, Ruby later said that he had been distraught over the Kennedy assassination and that killing Oswald would spare "... Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial."
An Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle (see 6.5×52mm Mannlicher–Carcano cartridge) was found on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman and Deputy Sheriff Eugene Boone soon after the assassination of President Kennedy. The recovery was filmed by Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV.
This footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano, and it was later verified by photographic analysis commissioned by the HSCA that the rifle filmed was the same one later identified as the assassination weapon. Compared to photographs taken of Oswald holding the rifle in his backyard, "one notch in the stock at [a] point that appears very faintly in the photograph" matched, as well as the rifle's dimensions.
The previous March, the secondhand Carcano rifle had been purchased by Oswald under the alias "A. Hidell" and delivered to a post office in Dallas where Oswald had rented a box. According to the Warren Commission Report, a partial palm print of Oswald was also found on the barrel of the gun, and a tuft of fibers found in a crevice of the rifle was consistent with the fibers and colors of the shirt Oswald was wearing at the time of his arrest.
A bullet found on Governor Connally's hospital gurney, and two bullet fragments found in the Presidential limousine, were ballistically matched to this rifle.
The staff at Parkland Hospital's Trauma Room 1 who treated President Kennedy observed that his condition was "moribund" (a mortal wound), meaning that he had no chance of survival upon arriving at the hospital. George Burkley, the President's personal physician, stated that a gunshot wound to the skull was the cause of death. Burkley signed President Kennedy's death certificate.
At 1:00 p.m., CST (19:00 UTC), after all heart activity had ceased and after Father Oscar Huber had administered last rites, the President was pronounced dead. Father Huber told The New York Times that the President was already dead by the time he arrived at the hospital, and he had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction. President Kennedy's death was officially announced by White House Acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff at 1:33 p.m. CST (19:33 UTC). Kilduff was acting press secretary on the trip because Pierre Salinger was traveling to Japan with half the Cabinet, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was taken to emergency surgery, where he underwent two operations that day.
As members of the President's security detail attempted to remove Kennedy's body from the hospital, they briefly scuffled with Dallas officials, including Dallas County Coroner Earl Rose who believed he was legally obligated to perform an autopsy before Kennedy's body was removed. The Secret Service pushed through and Rose eventually stepped aside. The forensic panel of the HSCA, of which Rose was a member, later reported that Texas law indicated that it was the responsibility of the justice of the peace to determine the cause of death as well as the necessity of whether an autopsy was needed to determine the cause of death. Theran Ward, a justice of the peace in Dallas County, signed the official record of inquest as well as a second certificate of death.
A few minutes after 2:00 p.m. CST (20:00 UTC), Kennedy's body was taken from Parkland Hospital to Air Force One. The casket was then loaded aboard the airplane through the rear door, where it remained at the rear of the passenger compartment, in place of a removed row of seats. Lyndon B. Johnson, who as Vice President, became President upon Kennedy's death, and had been riding two cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, refused to leave for Washington without President Kennedy and his widow.
At 2:38 p.m. CST (20:38 UTC) President Johnson, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side, took the oath of office that was administered by federal judge Sarah T. Hughes on board Air Force One shortly before it departed from Love Field for the sad flight back to Washington, D.C..
The autopsy was performed, beginning at about 8 p.m. and ending at about midnight EST at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The choice of autopsy hospital in the Washington, D.C., area was made at the request of Mrs. Kennedy, on the basis that John F. Kennedy had been a naval officer.
The state funeral took place in Washington, D.C., during the three days that followed the assassination.
The body of President Kennedy was flown back to Washington, D.C., and placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours. On the Sunday after the assassination, his coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the United States Capitol to lie in state. Throughout the day and night, hundreds of thousands of people lined up to view the guarded casket. Representatives from over 90 countries attended the state funeral on Monday, November 25. After the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, the President was laid to rest 2.7 miles from the White House at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live because the area through which the motorcade was traveling was not considered important enough for a live broadcast. Most media crews were not even with the motorcade but were waiting instead at the Dallas Trade Mart in anticipation of President Kennedy's arrival. Those members of the media who were with the motorcade were riding at the rear of the procession.
The Dallas police were recording their radio transmissions over two channels. A frequency designated as Channel One was used for routine police communications; Channel Two was an auxiliary channel dedicated to the President's motorcade. Up until the time of the assassination, most of the broadcasts on the second channel consisted of Police Chief Jesse Curry's announcements of the location of the motorcade as it wound through the city.
President Kennedy's last seconds traveling through Dealey Plaza were recorded on silent 8 mm film for the 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination. This famous film footage was taken by garment manufacturer and amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, in what became known as the Zapruder film. Frame enlargements from the Zapruder film were published by Life magazine shortly after the assassination. The footage was first shown publicly as a film at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969, and on television in 1975. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, in 1999 an arbitration panel ordered the United States government to pay $615,384 per second of film to Zapruder's heirs for giving the film to the National Archives. The complete film, which lasts for 26 seconds, was valued at $16 million.
Zapruder was not the only person who photographed at least part of the assassination; a total of 32 photographers were in Dealey Plaza. Amateur movies taken by Orville Nix, Marie Muchmore (shown on television in New York on November 26, 1963), and photographer Charles Bronson captured the fatal shot, although at a greater distance than Zapruder. Other motion picture films were taken in Dealey Plaza at or around the time of the shooting by Robert Hughes, F. Mark Bell, Elsie Dorman, John Martin Jr., Patsy Paschall, Tina Towner, James Underwood, Dave Wiegman, Mal Couch, Thomas Atkins, and an unknown woman in a blue dress on the south side of Elm Street.
Still photos were taken by Phillip Willis, Mary Moorman, Hugh W. Betzner Jr., Wilma Bond, Robert Croft, and many others. Ike Altgens was the lone professional photographer in Dealey Plaza who was not in the press cars; he was a photo editor for the Associated Press in Dallas.
An unidentified woman, nicknamed the Babushka Lady by researchers, might have been filming the Presidential motorcade during the assassination. She was seen apparently doing so on film and in photographs taken by the others.
Previously unknown color footage filmed on the assassination day by George Jefferies was released on February 19, 2007 by the Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas. The film does not include the shooting, having been taken roughly 90 seconds beforehand and a couple of blocks away. The only detail relevant to the investigation of the assassination is a clear view of President Kennedy's bunched suit jacket, just below the collar, which has led to different calculations about how low in the back President Kennedy was first shot (see discussion above).
After arresting Oswald and collecting physical evidence at the crime scenes, the Dallas Police held Oswald at their headquarters for interrogation. All afternoon, they asked Oswald about the Tippit shooting and the assassination of the President. They intermittently questioned him for approximately 12 hours between 2:30 p.m., on November 22, and 11 a.m., on November 24. Throughout this interrogation, Oswald denied any involvement with either Kennedy's assassination or Patrolman Tippit's murder. Captain Fritz of the homicide and robbery bureau did most of the questioning, keeping only rudimentary notes. Days later, he wrote a report of the interrogation from notes he made afterwards. There were no stenographic or tape recordings. Representatives of other law enforcement agencies were also present, including the FBI and the Secret Service, and occasionally participated in the questioning. Several of the FBI agents present wrote contemporaneous reports of the interrogation.
On the evening of November 22, Dallas Police performed paraffin tests on Oswald's hands and right cheek in an apparent effort to determine, by means of a scientific test, whether or not he had recently fired a weapon. The results were positive for the hands and negative for the right cheek. Because of the unreliability of these tests, the Warren Commission did not rely on the results of the test in making their findings.
Oswald provided little information during his questioning. When confronted with evidence that he could not explain, he resorted to statements that were found to be false. Dallas authorities were not able to complete their investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy due to interruptions from the FBI and Oswald's murder by Jack Ruby.
The FBI was the first authority to complete an investigation. On December 9, 1963, the FBI issued a report and gave it to the Warren Commission.
The FBI stated that three bullets were fired during the Kennedy assassination; the Warren Commission agreed with the FBI investigation that three shots were fired but disagreed with the FBI report on which shots hit Kennedy and which hit Governor Connally. The FBI report claimed that the first shot hit President Kennedy, the second shot hit Governor Connally, and the third shot hit President Kennedy in the head, killing him. In contrast, the Warren Commission concluded that one of the three shots missed, one of the shots hit President Kennedy and then struck Governor Connally, and a third shot struck President Kennedy in the head, killing him.
The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, known unofficially as the Warren Commission, was established on November 29, 1963, by President Johnson to investigate the assassination. Its 888-page final report was presented to President Johnson on September 24, 1964, and made public three days later. It concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of President Kennedy and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally, and that Jack Ruby also acted alone in the murder of Oswald. The Commission's findings have since proven controversial and been both challenged and supported by later studies.
The Commission took its unofficial name, "The Warren Commission", from its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren. According to published transcripts of Johnson's presidential phone conversations, some major officials were opposed to forming such a commission, and several commission members took part only with extreme reluctance. One of their chief reservations was that a commission would ultimately create more controversy than consensus, and those fears ultimately proved valid.
All of the Warren Commission's records were submitted to the National Archives in 1964. The unpublished portion of those records was initially sealed for 75 years (to 2039) under a general National Archives policy that applied to all federal investigations by the executive branch of government, a period "intended to serve as protection for innocent persons who could otherwise be damaged because of their relationship with participants in the case". The 75-year rule no longer exists, supplanted by the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and the JFK Records Act of 1992.
In 1968, a panel of four medical experts appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark met in Washington, D.C., to examine various photographs, X-ray films, documents, and other evidence about the death of President Kennedy. The Clark Panel determined that President Kennedy was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him, one of which traversed the base of the neck on the right side without striking bone and the other of which entered the skull from behind and destroyed its upper right side.
The United States President's Commission on CIA activities within the United States was set up under President Gerald Ford in 1975 to investigate the activities of the CIA within the United States. The commission was led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and is sometimes referred to as the Rockefeller Commission.
Part of the commission's work dealt with the Kennedy assassination, specifically the head snap as seen in the Zapruder film (first shown to the general public in 1975), and the possible presence of E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis in Dallas. The commission concluded that neither Hunt nor Sturgis was in Dallas at the time of the assassination.
Church Committee is the common term referring to the 1975 United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, to investigate the illegal intelligence gathering by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the Watergate incident. It also investigated the CIA and FBI conduct relating to the JFK assassination.
Their report concluded that the investigation on the assassination by FBI and CIA were fundamentally deficient and the facts that have greatly affected the investigation had not been forwarded to the Warren Commission by the agencies. It also found that the FBI, the agency with primary responsibility on the matter, was ordered by Director Hoover and pressured by unnamed higher government officials to conclude its investigation quickly. The report hinted that there was a possibility that senior officials in both agencies made conscious decisions not to disclose potentially important information.
As a result of increasing public and congressional skepticism regarding the Warren Commission's findings and the transparency of government agencies, House Resolution 1540 was passed in September 1976, creating the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to investigate the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr..
The Committee investigated until 1978, and in March 1979 issued its final report, concluding that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. While one of the reasons for that finding of "probable conspiracy" was a since-discredited acoustic analysis of a police channel dictabelt recording, the HSCA also commissioned numerous other scientific studies of acoustic analysis that corroborate the Warren Commission's findings. The Committee concluded that previous investigations into Oswald's responsibility were "thorough and reliable" but they did not adequately investigate the possibility of a conspiracy, and that Federal agencies performed with "varying degrees of competency". Specifically, the FBI and CIA were found to be deficient in sharing information with other agencies and the Warren Commission. Instead of furnishing all information relevant to the investigation, the FBI and CIA only responded to specific requests and were still occasionally inadequate. Furthermore, the Secret Service did not properly analyze information it possessed prior to the assassination and was inadequately prepared to protect the President.
Concerning the conclusions of "probable conspiracy", four of the twelve committee members wrote dissenting opinions. In accordance with the recommendations of the HSCA, the Dictabelt recording and acoustic evidence of a second assassin was subsequently reexamined. In light of investigative reports from the FBI's Technical Services Division and a specially appointed National Academy of Sciences Committee determining that "reliable acoustic data do not support a conclusion that there was a second gunman," the Justice Department concluded "that no persuasive evidence can be identified to support the theory of a conspiracy in ... the assassination of President Kennedy".
Although the final report and supporting volumes of the HSCA was publicly released, the working papers and primary documents were sealed until 2029 under Congressional rules and only partially released as part of the 1992 JFK Act.
In 1992, the popular but controversial movie JFK had renewed public interest in the assassination and particularly in the still-classified documents referenced in the film's postscript. Largely in response to the film, Congress passed the JFK Act, or "President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992". The goal of the legislation was to collect at the National Archives and make publicly available all of the assassination-related records held by federal and state government agencies, private citizens and various other organizations.
The JFK Act also mandated the creation of an independent office, the Assassination Records Review Board, to review the submitted records for completeness and continued secrecy. The Review Board was not commissioned to make any findings or conclusions regarding the assassination, just to collect and release all related documents. From 1994 until 1998, the Assassination Records Review Board gathered and unsealed about 60,000 documents, consisting of over 4 million pages. Government agencies requested that some records remain classified and these were reviewed under section 6 criteria of the JFK Act. There were 29,420 such records and all of them were fully or partially released, with stringent requirements for redaction.
All remaining assassination-related records (approximately 5,000 pages) are scheduled to be released by October 2017, with the exception of documents certified for continued postponement by the President under the following conditions: (1) "continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations" and (2) "the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure." There is some concern among researchers that significant records, particularly those of the CIA, may still remain classified after 2017. Although these documents may include interesting historical information, all of the records were examined by the Review Board and were not determined to impact the facts of the Kennedy assassination.
Many conspiracy theories posit that the assassination involved people or organizations other than Lee Harvey Oswald. Most current theories put forth a criminal conspiracy involving parties as varied as the CIA, the Mafia, Vice President Johnson, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the KGB, or some combination of those entities.
Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Gallup polls have also found that only 20–30% of the population believe that Oswald had acted alone. These polls also show that there is no agreement on who else may have been involved. Former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi estimated that a total of 42 groups, 82 assassins, and 214 people had been accused in various Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
The assassination evoked stunned reactions worldwide. Before the President's death was announced, the first hour after the shooting was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the United States, and whether Vice President Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.
The news shocked the nation. People wept openly and gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car. Schools across the United States dismissed their students early. Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday's home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having "killed the President".
The event left a lasting impression on many worldwide. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11 attacks after it, asking "Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy's assassination" would become a common topic of discussion.
The plane serving as Air Force One is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where tours of the aircraft are offered including the rear of the aircraft where President Kennedy's casket was placed and the location where Mrs. Kennedy stood in her blood-stained pink dress while Vice President Johnson was sworn in as president. The 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Equipment from the trauma room at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where President Kennedy was pronounced dead, including a gurney, was purchased by the federal government from the hospital in 1973 and is now stored by the National Archives at an underground facility in Lenexa, Kansas. The First Lady's pink suit, the autopsy report, X-rays and President Kennedy's blood-stained jacket, shirt and tie worn during the assassination are stored in the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, with access controlled by a representative of the Kennedy family. The rifle used by Oswald, his diary, revolver, bullet fragments, and the windshield of Kennedy's limousine are also stored by the Archives. The Lincoln Catafalque, which President Kennedy's coffin rested on while he lay in state in the Capitol, is on display at the United States Capitol Visitor Center.
The three-acre park within Dealey Plaza, the buildings facing it, the overpass, and a portion of the adjacent railyard – including the railroad switching tower – were designated part of the Dealey Plaza Historic District by the National Park Service on October 12, 1993. Much of the area is accessible to visitors, including the park and grassy knoll. Though still an active city street, the approximate spot where the presidential limousine was located at the time of the shooting is marked with an X on the street. The Texas School Book Depository now draws over 325,000 visitors each year to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza operated by the Dallas County Historical Foundation. There is a re-creation of the sniper's nest on the sixth floor of the building.
At the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe, Illinois, are permanently displayed items related to the assassination such as the catalogue Oswald used to order the rifle, a hat and jacket that belonged to Jack Ruby and the shoes he wore when he shot Oswald, and a window from the Texas School Book Depository. The Texas State Archives have the clothes Governor Connally wore on November 22, 1963.
Some items were intentionally destroyed by the United States government at the direction of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, such as the casket used to transport President Kennedy's body aboard Air Force One from Dallas to Washington, which was dropped by the Air Force into the sea as "its public display would be extremely offensive and contrary to public policy". Other items such as the hat worn by Jack Ruby the day he shot Lee Harvey Oswald and the toe tag on Oswald's corpse are in the hands of private collectors and have sold for tens of thousands of dollars at auctions.
Jack Ruby's gun, owned by his brother Earl Ruby, was sold by the Herman Darvick Autograph Auctions in New York City on December 26, 1991, for $220,000.