Virginia town mostly unfazed about arrival of Reagan attacker Hinckley

August 5, 2016 4:44 PM EDT

Secret service agents and police surround John Hinckley Jr. fired six shots at President Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, U.S. on March 30, 1981. Courtesy Reagan Library/Handout via REUTERS

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By Gary Robertson

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (Reuters) - Many residents of the Virginia town where John Hinckley Jr. will settle after his release from a psychiatric hospital were unfazed by his expected arrival on Friday, though some were still wary of the man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley, a 25-year-old college dropout when he shot and wounded the president, will live with his 90-year-old mother in a gated community in Kingsmill outside Williamsburg, a historic town about 130 miles (210 km) south of Washington.

That was one of dozens of conditions imposed by a federal judge when he ruled last week that Hinckley, now 61, was no longer a danger to himself or others, and could leave the hospital as early as Friday.

Kingsmill Police Chief Jim West said he did not know who was transporting Hinckley to his mother's home or when he might arrive. Neither a spokeswoman for St. Elizabeths, the Washington hospital where Hinckley has been held since 1982, nor his lawyer Barry Levine could immediately be reached.

Hinckley, who was obsessed with actress Jodie Foster when he shot the president, Reagan's press secretary and two others, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after a trial that led several states to tighten rules on using such a defense.

Amanda Krems, a former teacher who has been taking time off to raise her children, said she has no issue with Hinckley being in Williamsburg.

"He has served his time," she said. "But I know he makes a lot of people nervous."

Suzanne Lanier, a homemaker at the local library, said she had a change of sentiment about Hinckley when her own child struggled with mental issues, an experience that gave her a better understanding of mental illness.

"I am sure the Reagan family and the Brady family would feel quite differently," she said, referring to the now-deceased former president and his press secretary, James Brady, who was severely wounded by Hinckley and died two years ago.

The decision to release Hinckley drew criticism from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, which said the family believed he still poses a threat to others.

That sentiment was shared by Randy Newkirk, 61, who works for a distribution company.

"He should be in jail," Newkirk said while eating lunch at a Taco Bell. Newkirk, who lives outside Williamsburg, said his work frequently brings him to the town.

"If you're well enough to get out on account of mental problems, you're well enough to stand trial," he said. "You never know what might set him off."

Hinckley is no stranger to Williamsburg, a "living museum" known for its re-enactments of life during the American Revolution. Since 2003, he has spent increasingly extended furloughs there, visiting his mother, performing volunteer work and occasionally frequenting local shops.

Hinckley's behavior during those visits was mostly unremarkable, the federal judge wrote.

At a local Starbucks, a retiree who declined to give his name said he knew Hinckley but not very well.

"While I deplore what he did, I would have no problem with him being here," he said. "There are many mental health problems that can be treated successfully. He will be monitored closely. I would not anticipate any trouble."

After his admission to the hospital, doctors diagnosed Hinckley with depression and psychosis, but they say those conditions have been in remission for years.

Before the assassination attempt, Hinckley had become obsessed with Foster and the Martin Scorsese film "Taxi Driver," in which she played a teenage prostitute.

Hinckley began to identify with the film's main character, Travis Bickle, who planned to assassinate a fictitious presidential candidate, and spent years trying to make contact with Foster, who at the time was a Yale University student.

On March 30, 1981, Hinckley wrote Foster a letter detailing his plans to kill Reagan in an effort to win her over. Later that day, Hinckley approached the president outside the Washington Hilton Hotel and opened fire.

The judge's order imposes nearly three dozen conditions on Hinckley's release, including monthly meetings with his psychiatrist. Secret Service agents are likely to monitor his movements.

Jen Thurman, owner of Retro Daddio, a Williamsburg shop that sells old records and other goods, is not worried, saying she does not understand why anyone would get "twisted up" about Hinckley's release, pointing out that he has already spent a lot of time in the community.

"He's a nice man. He comes in the store about once a month to buy records. He doesn't bother anybody," she said.

(Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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