Eyewitnesses share their stories

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From left: Stephen Fagin, associate curator of The Sixth Floor Museum, Dr. Ronald C. Jones, chief surgery resident in Parkland Memorial Hospital, and Bob Jackson, photographer with the Dallas Times Herald. (RYAN MILLER / The Daily Campus)

A Dallas police officer, deputy sheriff, surgeon, citizen and photographer shared their eyewitness accounts of the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

W.E. “Gene” Barnett was one of three Dallas police officers standing on the corner of Elm Street and Houston Street, closest to the entrance of the Texas School Book Depository.

“The president had just come by and I heard a shot ring out,” Barnett said to a room of media Wednesday night on the seventh floor of the old depository building. “I looked at the president and saw his hands come up to his neck. I thought the shot was coming from the top of the building.”

That assumption would later haunt Barnett as he reflected on the day.

“I didn’t do the right thing,” he said. “I let the man who shot the president of the United States walk out the front door.”

Barnett knew Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby, from working in the area of Ruby’s club. He arrested Ruby and one of his employees before for fighting. After a $10 fine was paid Barnett never discussed the arrest with Ruby. Barnett said Ruby was a “very emotional person” and didn’t know he carried a weapon, although many businessmen at the time did. Barnett was in church on the Sunday when Oswald was shot by Ruby.

Barnett felt the anger directed at the police of the “city of hate.”

“They blamed Dallas,” he said.

Barnett remained with the Dallas Police Department for two more years before transferring to highway patrol where he remained for 30 years.

Rickey Chism was 3-years-old when he saw JFK assassinated, however he didn’t know it until he saw himself and his mother in a history book 10 years later.

“For a long time I had this dream of somebody getting killed in a car, but I never knew what it was until I was thirteen years old,” Chism said. “When I went home I asked [my parents] about it. That’s when they started telling me about it.”

Chism and his parents, John and Marvin Faye, witnessed the assassination while standing on the north side of Elm Street.

After the first shot, Chism’s father started running toward the grassy knoll, in the direction which he thought he heard the shots. He was tackled by what Chism thinks were secret service agents.

“They ended up taking him to the police station where we spent about 12 hours,” Chism said. “They thought he was responsible.”

Although he was young, Chism said he has visual memories of being downtown where there was commotion and being in the police station.

Chism said his parents, especially his mother, were reluctant to speak about their eyewitness accounts out of fear. Eugene Boone was the Dallas deputy sheriff who discovered the rifle on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository about an hour after the assassination. He used a flashlight to search the floor with several other officers and found the rifle in a crevice between two stacks of boxes.

“I hollered, ‘Here’s the rifle,’ and looked at my watch and it was 1:22 p.m.,” Boone said.

He protected the scene until the Dallas Bureau of Identification arrived, took photos and removed the rifle. Boone said he never touched the rifle.

Like Barnett, Boone also had previous relations with Ruby. Boone worked in the advertising department of the Dallas Times Herald, in which Ruby bought ads for his club.

“My impression of Jack [Ruby] was that he really had some sort of complex,” Boone said. “Knowing him the way I did, I believe he thought he would shoot Oswald, be the man that shot the man, the code of the west and that no jury would ever convict him. And he could go back to operate his business and be the main attraction.”

Boone said the sheriff’s office received threats on Oswald’s life when he was going to be transferred. He credited Ruby’s common presence in the police station as to why he was not seen as a threat before he shot Oswald. Dr. Ronald C. Jones treated President Kennedy and his accused assassin Oswald in less than 48 hours at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

“When you get the call that the president of the United States is shot, it’s tense,” Jones said.

When he walked into Trauma Room 1, Jones said he observed a small wound in the middle of the president’s neck, that his eyes were open and he was not moving. He was aware of a large wound in the back of JFK’s head but that the doctors did not evaluate it immediately because the focus was on establishing an airway.

“Parkland,” released Oct. 2, recreates the supposed events that took place in the hospital, now renown for its trauma center.

After seeing 40 minutes of the film, Jones said, “It’s a movie. You get the impact from it, but it’s over dramatized and the characters in it are not exactly correct.”

Jones said the small 12 by 16 foot room was crowded with 20 people filling it, but that it was very quiet.

“Things went as we would have taken care of any other patient, it just happened that it was the president and [there] was lots of pressure on you,” he said.

Kennedy’s body was taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland for autopsy. Jones said he believed that if the autopsy had been done in Dallas it would have supplied no additional significant information.

Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Jackson was working for the Dallas Times Herald when he took his famous photograph of Ruby shooting Oswald exactly at the right second.

He wasn’t able to develop the film until two hours after the shooting, but Jackson said he knew he had a good shot.

However, he was not so lucky when he missed a photograph opportunity two days before, riding seven cars behind Kennedy in the motorcade. As the open convertible Jackson was riding in turned on to Houston street, he heard three shots and looked directly ahead of him at the Texas School Book Depository. In the sixth floor window he said he saw a rifle. Jackson had just emptied his film on his long-lense camera five minutes before, to throw to a reporter. Although the lack of film in the camera in his lap kept him from possibly capturing historical evidence, Jackson says he doesn’t think he could have reacted quickly enough to get the photo even if he had film.

Jackson emphasized that he heard three shots that afternoon because the car he was in was out of the “echo chamber” that some say was created by the tall buildings surrounding Dealey Plaza. The eyewitnesses who were interviewed by the media were invited to the event as well as Stephen Fagin, associate curator of the Sixth Floor Museum.

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