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A bright red dress. A weathered face. And a gun, almost as large as the shooter’s hand.
Those were the images seared into President Gerald Ford’s memory as he recalled the September day in 1975 when Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, pointed a gun at him near the California capitol in Sacramento.
The recollections were made public in newly distributed testimony from Ford that was videotaped and played during Fromme’s trial. For more than three decades, the tape was under seal, but after an appeal from an historical society was made available for distribution on Tuesday.
Sitting in front of a blue curtain and occasionally sipping from a glass of ice water, Ford gave measured answers to questions from a lawyer about his memories of that assassination attempt, which landed Fromme in prison for 34 years.
As he was walking and shaking hands along L Street toward the state capitol building, Ford – who died in 2006 – recalled noticing a woman in the crowd standing behind two or three rows of other people.
The woman, Ford remembered, was wearing a “brightly colored dress” that was either orange or red, and she looked like she wanted to get closer. He described her face as “weathered.”
“I hesitated, instead of keeping moving as I normally do,” Ford said. “And as I stopped, I saw her hand come through the crowd in the first row. And that was the only active gesture that I saw. But in the hand was a weapon.”
He estimated that weapon – a Colt .45 caliber pistol – was two feet away from him, and positioned between his knees and his waist. Police later said there was ammunition loaded into the weapon, but not in the chamber.
“I only saw it instantaneously, because almost automatically one of the secret service agents lunged, grabbed the hand and the weapon, and then I was pushed off by the other members of the secret service detail,” he said.
He couldn’t remember seeing Fromme’s finger on the trigger or whether or not she was cocking the weapon. And as his security detail lunged at the woman, Ford said he didn’t take a second glace as his would-be killer.
“I really don’t think I looked back on any deliberate way. I was being pushed and moved very rapidly by the secret service detail,” he said.
Fromme was eventually convicted of attempting to assassinate Ford, and after serving more than three decades behind bars was released in 2009. In interviews, Fromme has denied a desire to kill the president, saying she only wanted to talk to him and brought the gun to get his attention. …