WILLIAMSBURG (AP) Life for the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago has progressively become more normal, with greater freedom outside a psychiatric hospital, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the record store where he whiles away so many hours.
John Hinckley Jr., now 61, has made purchases at Retro Daddio one might expect from a man of his generation: A book about The Who, the graying rock band currently on a farewell tour, and an album by obscure ’60s rockers Ian and the Zodiacs, that languished on the shelf for six months.
He is on a first-name basis with the owner, Jen Thurman, chatting her up about a Beatles poster he has that was signed by Paul McCartney and other musical trivia. A photo on the wall of a young Jodie Foster — the actress he said he was trying to impress when he shot Reagan and three others in 1981 — seems to go unnoticed.
“I’m alone in the store frequently with him, and he’s never creeped me out,” Thurman told The Associated Press. “He’s very nice and very pleasant to be around.”
A judge on July 27 ordered Hinckley’s permanent release from a mental hospital as early as this month. But Hinckley has long been building a life in this gated community along a Williamsburg golf course after years of supervised releases to his mother’s house, which most recently numbered 17 days a month.
Hinckley is expected to move into the gated community, known as Kingsmill, in early August. And while many have expressed dismay and even outrage, several have welcomed the man often seen around town in a generic baseball cap. He cares for feral cats and drives himself around town in a Toyota Avalon, to places like the movies and fast-food restaurants.
Hinckley joins his now 90-year-old mother for Sunday services at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, where parishioners know his presence by the Secret Service agents in back. Senior Pastor Bill Jones told The Associated Press he’s never met Hinckley but the church “would not exclude him from our fellowship.”
Hinckley also has been volunteering at the local Unitarian Church, cutting grass, raking leaves and building birdhouses, according to the judge’s 100-page order. Hinckley’s case manager told the judge that several church members expressed their “support for John and willingness really to have him engage in more things at the church if he was willing.”
Hinckley also volunteers at the patient cafeteria of Eastern State Hospital, a local mental institution. He clears tables, does dishes and works the counter as needed, said Maria Reppas, spokeswoman for Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
A local photographer has been mentoring Hinckley as well, according to court records. He declined to comment to the AP.
The life Hinckley is building comes with conditions: He must live with his mother for a year, and only after that can he live alone, with roommates or in a group home. If his mother becomes unable to supervise him, his sister will immediately come to Williamsburg until a more permanent solution is found.
His mother has been his most consistent companion: He treats her to dinner occasionally at Ruby Tuesday and takes her on scenic drives. By his own account, it appears he has been looking forward to living permanently outside the hospital for some time: “It’s really refreshing to be in a group with people who aren’t completely out of their minds,” he said, according to court documents.
Sandra Kochersperger, who once supervised Hinckley when he volunteered in Eastern State’s library, said she has wondered how he’ll manage.
“I don’t think he would ever bother anyone,” Kochersperger told the AP. “He would probably live a very quiet life, and would probably be just fine on his own.”
Hinckley has sometimes appeared less than fully engaged in the world around him.
Gordon James, who lives three doors down, said Hinckley appeared to ignore his hello as he passed by on a routine walk.
“My initial thought was that he may have been heavily medicated,” said James, a retired Navy aviator and commercial pilot. “He was certainly not in the moment in terms of listening to me. But I don’t imagine he gets engaged in a lot of conversations.”
That’s not the case at Retro Daddio, at least.
“I’m always happy to talk to a music lover,” said Thurman, the owner.
Hinckley’s attempt on Reagan’s life was fueled by his obsession with the movie “Taxi Driver” and Foster, its teenage star. But her photo, one of several famous people on the wall, fails to grab Hinckley’s attention, as far as Thurman can tell.
“I’ve been feeling very protective of him,” Thurman said. “He’s my customer. And he’s not a bad guy.”