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Waiting, the woman in the red dress began to raise her automatic. Near a magnolia tree, Ford paused to shake some hands. He was actually stretching his hand out to the woman in red, according to some witnesses, when he froze for an instant. "I saw a hand coming up between several others in the front row," Ford would later recall, "and obviously there was a gun in that hand." She was no more than 2 ft. away from the big man who made such an easy target. She cried out: "The country is in a mess! This man is not your President!"
Let's Go! White-faced, Ford flinched from the gun. At the same instant, Secret Service Agent Larry Buen-dorf, 37, lunged forward. A husky athlete, Buendorf easily wrested the gun from her grasp and threw her to the ground. With the help of agents and a policeman, he quickly handcuffed her.
Meanwhile, another Secret Service agent shouted: "Let's go!" The command was a signal to tell other agents in the area that Ford was in danger. Swiftly, a cordon of men formed around the shaken President. Two agents pulled down on his suit jacket, forcing the tall (6 ft. 2 in.) Ford to bend so that he was partially concealed by the group. Then, moving at a brisk walk, the party swept through the park past the startled spectators and into the safety of the capitol.
As the President disappeared, Squeaky Fromme was shouting in her little-girl voice: "He's not a public servant! He's not a public servant!" She also cried out: "It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off."
Why the gun could not go off quickly became clear when the Secret Service examined the 3-lb. Colt automatic. It was loaded with four bullets, but there was no bullet in the chamber ready to be fired (see diagram). To shoot the gun, Fromme would first have had to pull back the slide on top of the pistol, thus forcing a bullet from the clip up into the chamber. After the first shot was fired, the next bullet would have been automatically fed into the chamber.
There is evidence that Fromme was doing her best to shoot the weapon that, at such close range, would almost certainly have killed the President. Some witnesses reported hearing a distinct clicking sound, which could have been made by the hammer snapping forward as she futilely pulled the trigger. In addition, there is the record of what happened to Agent Buendorf when he leaped into action. Instinctively, as he had been trained, Buendorf grabbed for the hammer of the gun, trying to interpose the web of skin between his right thumb and his right forefinger between the hammer and the firing pin. In the confusion, just what happened is not clear, but Buendorf came away with a cut between thumb and finger, as though he had been caught by the striking hammer.