Hinckley says he’s happy ‘as a clam’ but lacks close friends

John Hinckley Jr. (AP file photo)
John Hinckley Jr. (AP file photo)

The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan told mental health professionals last year that he’s “happy as a clam” living with his mother and older brother in Virginia.

John Hinckley Jr. anonymously sells books online as well as items at an antique mall. He plays guitar and cares for his elderly mother who recently broke a hip.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” Hinckley said during a mental health evaluation that was conducted last year and publicly released by a federal court on Tuesday.

But the 63-year-old has also struggled to make close friends or develop romantic relationships in the Williamsburg area.

Members of his treatment team had discussed the possibility of online dating, although at least some of them said it was “far too risky, possibly endangering Mr. Hinckley’s personal safety.”

The evaluations of Hinckley’s mental health offer a rare view into his life since he moved out of a mental hospital in 2016 and in with his mother.

The assessments were conducted in the months before a federal judge ruled that Hinckley could eventually move out of his mother’s house and live under fewer restrictions.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman cited the evaluations in his ruling in November. Friedman, who is a judge in the District of Columbia, wrote that “this court finds that Mr. Hinckley will not pose a danger to himself or others if he is permitted to continue residing full-time in Williamsburg, Virginia, on convalescent leave under the proposed conditions.”

Hinckley was 25 when he shot and wounded Reagan outside a Washington hotel in 1981. The shooting also paralyzed press secretary James Brady and injured two others.

Hinckley was suffering from acute psychosis and major depression and had become obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster. When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, they said he needed treatment, not a lifetime in confinement.

Hinckley spent decades at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the nation’s capital. Starting in 2006, he began to make trips to visit his mother, who is now in her 90s and lives in a gated community.

The evaluations from 2018 depict a man who has readily taken on the role of caregiver for his mother as well as chauffer for his older brother who now lives with them and doesn’t drive. The two men plan to live together when Hinckley moves out.

But making friends has been a challenge.

A friendly conversation with a neighbor prompted Hinckley to write her a letter proposing they go out for coffee. But she called the local authorities when she saw his last name.

Romance has also been elusive.

Hinckley said during one of his evaluations that “they were complaining I had too many women” when he was still in the mental hospital.

“Now I don’t have any,” he said.

Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Levine, said he plans to request unconditional release for Hinckley in the future.

Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this story.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.