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40 Years Ago: Garfield Heights man tackles Reagan shooter

Family remembers Alfred Antenucci
Al Antenucci
Posted at 5:43 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 18:54:03-04

CLEVELAND — Exactly 40 years ago, John Hinckley Jr. wounded President Ronald Reagan during a shooting outside a Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C.

Four people, including the president, were hit during the shooting. The bullet missed Reagan's heart by less than a quarter of an inch.

Historians credit one Northeast Ohio man for helping prevent more injuries that day.

Bad weather prevented Dominic Antenucci’s father, Alfred Antenucci, from playing golf with congressman J. William Stanton on March 30, 1981. At the time, Alfred Antenucci worked as a union leader with Carpenters Local 1750.

Instead, his son told News 5 the Garfield Heights native was among those in the crowd as the president left a speech at the AFL-CIO National Conference of Building Trades Departments.

“They wanted to get a glimpse of President Reagan,” Dominic Antenucci said.

Outside the event, Alfred Antenucci found himself right behind John Hinckley Jr.

“He got one shot off and then my father started to hit him, hitting him in the back of the head,” Dominic Antenucci said.

Antenucci recounted the moments after the shooting when he heard his father’s name mentioned during news reports immediately following the incident.

“He was being interrogated by the FBI because they didn't have any idea what involvement he had,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Alfred Antenucci was cleared by investigators and heralded a hero for his role.

News 5 spoke with Antenucci, known by his friends as “Jeep,” at his home, which was filled with White House memorabilia.

Al Antenucci and family
President Ronald Reagan and Alfred Antenucci

“Any man wearing a pair of pants and calls himself a man would’ve automatically done the same thing,” he said at the time.

Artifacts from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library highlight Antenucci’s interactions with the president, including a phone call, a signed letter from the president, and photographs the two took six months after the shooting.

A letter from President Ronald Reagan to Alfred Antenucci
A letter from President Ronald Reagan to Alfred Antenucci

“The time between the assassination attempt and his passing, [Alfred Antenucci] was invited to speak somewhere it seemed like every night,” his son explained.

Just a few years later, Al Antenucci died from heart complications.

President Reagan addressed Antenucci’s death during his weekly radio address on the shooting’s fourth anniversary.

”The man who helped wrestle my assailant to the ground,” he said. “Mr. Antenucci died last May. He was a proud American who never asked a thing of others, but who willingly risked his own life to save another.”

For Antenucci’s son, the idea of a democrat union leader helping a republican president epitomizes his father’s legacy.

“They’re working together for the betterment of all,” Dominic Antenucci said. “That’s the way I think he would like to be remembered.”