Ron Edmonds, AP Pulitzer-winning photographer at Reagan shooting, dies at 77 (2024)

Ron Edmonds, an Associated Press photographer who captured history outside the Washington Hilton in 1981 with Pulitzer Prize-winning images of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and agents wrestling shooter John W. Hinckley Jr. to the sidewalk, died May 31 at a hospital in Falls Church, Va. He was 77.

He died of pneumonia linked to a bacterial infection, said his wife, Grace Feliciano Edmonds.

Mr. Edmonds, assigned to cover the president, was the only news photographer able to chronicle the full sweep of events on March 30, 1981, from the sounds of gunshots — which Mr. Edmonds at first thought might be celebratory firecrackers — to the chaotic moments that followed.

He directed his lens across the top of the presidential limousine for a sequence of frames showing Reagan wincing and then being pushed inside the vehicle. Mr. Edmonds then swung around to the sidewalk, snapping images of Hinkley under a pile of bodies and Secret Service agents on alert with their weapons drawn. Also on the ground were the others wounded by Hinckley’s .22-caliber revolver: press secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. police canine officer Thomas Delahanty.

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“Everything happened in such a quick, split-second. If you looked to your right to see what the shot, what the noise was, and looked back, the president was already gone,” Mr. Edmonds told the AP for a retrospective story. “The president immediately, when the first pop went off, he kind of grimaced in his face and that’s when I pushed the shutter down.”

The coverage won the Pulitzer for spot news photography. “I wish it had been for a picture that had not been of violence, of people being hurt,” he said after the award was announced in April 1982.

He said he almost missed Reagan’s exit from the hotel. The presidential entourage had left after Reagan finished a speech to AFL-CIO union members. The escalators to the lobby were packed as a ballroom emptied out. Mr. Edmonds recalled pushing and elbowing his way through the crowd to get in position by the limousine.

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Some journalists were still inside the hotel when Reagan appeared. Mr. Edmonds expected a routine few seconds — a smiling nod to the onlookers by Reagan and then back to the White House.

But he was always ready for some kind of unexpected expression or gesture by Reagan that could make the wire. “He came. He waved. I made one image,” Mr. Edmonds recalled in a 2021 interview with PBS Hawaiʻi. “And then bangs went off.”

The presidential motorcade roared away, including the press van. If the van had stayed, Mr. Edmonds would have needed to jump aboard — and miss the events unfolding in front of the Hilton. “My job was to stay with the president,” he said. “Never leave the president.”

This time, he was left behind. Meanwhile, in the presidential limousine, Secret Service agent Jerry Parr radioed that “Rawhide is okay,” using Reagan’s Secret Service code name, and that they were returning to “crown,” code for the White House, according to transcripts released in 2011.

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Reagan’s condition, however, deteriorated rapidly. He was struggling to breathe and frothy blood — a sign of pulmonary wounds — coated his lips, Parr later said. They changed course to head to the nearest trauma center, George Washington University Hospital.

Reagan underwent chest surgery to stop internal bleeding and remove a bullet fragment lodged near his heart.

Mr. Edmonds, meanwhile, was heading back to the AP bureau at the White House, unaware of the severity of Reagan’s condition. He thought his coverage was a failure.

“I was sure I was going to be in big trouble,” he said, “because I knew that I had never seen Hinckley’s face. I knew that I had pictures of them wrestling with him, but they had initially pulled his jacket over his head.”

Photo class

Ronald Allen Edmonds was born on June 16, 1946, in Richmond, Calif., and was raised in Sacramento. His father was a truck driver, and his mother was a homemaker.

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He took a photography class at a community college in 1968 and a professor encouraged Mr. Edmonds to photograph antiwar demonstrations in Sacramento. He sold an image to United Press International for $25.

“I saw it in the newspaper the next day, and I knew what I wanted to do for a living,” he wrote in a 2013 essay.

Mr. Edmonds freelanced in California before taking a job at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1971. At an Elvis Presley concert in Honolulu in 1973, manager “Colonel” Tom Parker banned press coverage. The newspaper successfully fought the no-media rule.

“The colorful, cigar-chomping Parker escorted me to my seat — along with a 250-pound Samoan security guard to keep me there,” Mr. Edmonds wrote. “'The lawyers said I have to let you shoot pictures,' the Colonel growled, 'but I don’t have to let you move around.’”

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Mr. Edmonds joined UPI in 1978 in Sacramento. In 1980, during Reagan’s presidential campaign, the AP offered Mr. Edmonds a spot in the news agency’s Washington bureau. In a 29-year career with the AP, Mr. Edmonds covered four presidential administrations and events including Super Bowls and Olympics.

In 2013, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the White House News Photographers Association.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Grace Feliciano; a daughter, Ashley Edmonds, a Washington attorney; a brother; and a sister. He lived in Annandale, Va.

“I’ve had some days where I got up and practically every newspaper in the world had my picture on the front page,” Mr. Edmonds once said. “That’s pretty awesome.”

Ron Edmonds, AP Pulitzer-winning photographer at Reagan shooting, dies at 77 (2024)

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