The Hinckleys Are Tested Anew as Their Son Goes on Trial for Shooting the President

updated 05/03/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In March 1981, when JoAnn Hinckley waved goodbye to her L.A.-bound son at the Denver airport, she had no idea when she would see him again. Those were difficult times for John Hinckley Jr. Dropping in and out of college, toying with dreams of becoming a playwright or a rock star, living as a penniless recluse at a roadside motel or hanging out in a small-town pool hall, he hardly knew which way he was going. Or so it seemed. But five days later, when news of Hinckley's assassination attempt filled headlines and TV screens, his mother realized how final were the goodbyes that she and John had just shared.

This Tuesday, in a Washington courtroom, JoAnn Hinckley will be publicly united with her youngest child, as he goes on trial for trying to murder the President. With the passing of a year, some of the Hinckley family's pain may have dwindled. Still, the ordeal is far from over. The Hinckleys have suffered the emotional shock of John's two suicide attempts, and after 13 months of solitary confinement he remains "extremely depressed," according to sources in Fort Meade, Md., where Hinckley is confined. Now the family must face not only John's criminal trial but also civil lawsuits brought by two of his victims—one for $46 million filed by presidential Press Secretary James Brady, another for $31 million by Thomas K. Delahanty, the D.C. policeman injured during the attack. "We love our son John and will of course stand by him," the family announced to the press on March 30, 1981. They have never stopped living up to those words.

The town of Evergreen, Colo. (pop. 6,500), where the Hinckleys moved in 1974, after John Jr. graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas, is doing its best to restore calm to the Hinckleys' lives. Populated largely by wealthy entrepreneurs, airline pilots and professionals, Evergreen respects the privacy of all its inhabitants. People who live there, very few of whom knew John Jr., vow to match the family's silence with their own. "We feel they should be left alone," says a neighbor. "This is really a unique, super neighborhood. We're with JoAnn and John all the way. They're not an item of gossip." Only John Sr. has broken the silence about his son's tragedy. Incensed by a column in Denver's Rocky Mountain News last September that questioned the fairness of the insanity defense in cases like John Jr.'s, he wrote a letter charging that "the inconsiderate hatchet job you did on our troubled son is a cowardly, cheap shot."

A few concessions to John Jr.'s notoriety are evident at the Hinckley residence: The family has taken its name off the mailbox and obtained an unlisted phone number. But plainly the Hinckleys are trying to live their lives much as they did before their son's attack on the President, playing golf and tennis regularly and attending social events at the Hiwan Golf Club. JoAnn is known by the neighbors as "a gracious, attractive, well-spoken woman."

As a born-again Christian, John Sr. credits his religious beliefs with helping him cope with the family crisis. In the 1981 annual report of his oil and gas exploration business, Vanderbilt Energy Corporation, Hinckley, whose assets were recently valued at approximately $2 million, paraphrased from Proverbs: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Hinckley's plan now is to leave his material success behind. "He actually decided to sell the company five months before all this happened with his son because he wanted to devote his life to religious activities," says a company spokeswoman. She emphatically denies Hinckley needs the money to meet soaring legal and psychiatric fees for his son's defense, which is being conducted by the Washington law firm of Edward Bennett Williams. For now, John Sr. has been content to take back the title of chairman, which he relinquished briefly, and to let his son Scott, 31, take over much of the company's day-to-day operation. Both Scott and sister Diane Sims, 29—now married to a Dallas insurance executive and with two children of her own—keep in touch with their younger brother by phone.

This week the Hinckleys' resiliency will be tested again as they once more enter the spotlight as the parents of an accused would-be assassin. Yet, fortunately for them, they do so with the support of their friends and fellow townsfolk. As one elderly neighbor noted, "I feel so sorry for them, the poor people. We are all sad. But we try not to pay attention to their son's troubles. We all speak to them and wave when they drive by and try to go on as normal."

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