On this day in 1975, President Gerald Ford survived an attempt on his life in Sacramento, California. The assailant, Lynette Fromme, a petite 26-year-old red-haired, freckle-faced woman, approached Ford as he walked toward the California Capitol and raised a .45-caliber Colt pistol toward him.
A U.S. Secret Service agent, Larry Buendorf, grabbed the gun, wrested it from Fromme's hand, and forced her to the ground. Fromme said, “It didn't go off. Can you believe it? It didn't go off.” Another agent shouted “get down, let's go.” The presidential detail then half-dragged Ford away from Fromme toward the east entrance of the Capitol, until Ford yelled in protest, “Put me down! Put me down!”
Ford continued to walk to the California Statehouse and entered, where he met with California Gov. Jerry Brown for 30 minutes without mentioning the assassination attempt until they were through talking business. The president, who later said he wasn’t scared, concluded, "Well, I thought I'd better get on with my day's schedule.”
Ford then spoke to the California Legislature. The main topic of his speech was crime.
Fromme, nicknamed “Squeaky,” belonged to the Charles Manson “family,” a group of drug-addled groupies who followed the cult leader. Along with other members of his “family,” Manson had been convicted and imprisoned for murdering actress Sharon Tate and others in 1969. Subsequently, Fromme and other female members of the cult started an order of “nuns” within a new group that they called the International People’s Court of Retribution.
They terrorized executives whom they believed were running environmentally destructive companies.
Fromme said she devised the plot to kill Ford to win Manson’s approval. She was convicted of attempted murder and was sentenced to life in prison in West Virginia. She escaped in 1979 but was caught within 25 miles of the prison.
Fromme was released from prison in 2009, more than two years after Ford's death. She moved to Marcy, New York, to live in a house that the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard described as looking “like an old metal Quonset hut from the World War II era." (The Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, received the pistol as a gift from the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento.)
Seventeen days after the failed assassination attempt, another California woman, accountant Sarah Jane Moore, tried to assassinate Ford while he was visiting San Francisco. Her attempt was thwarted by a bystander who instinctively grabbed Moore’s arm when she raised her gun. Although she managed to fire one shot from close range, she missed. Three days later, Ford thanked the bystander, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran named Oliver Sipple.
Moore was imprisoned in the same facility as Fromme. She escaped in 1989 but turned herself in two days later. On Dec. 31, 2007, at age 77, Moore was released from prison on parole after serving 32 years of her life sentence.