DALLAS – The memorial to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a closed crime scene to the usual hordes of weekend tourists Saturday.
Once again, Dallas is the seat of national grief.
Police cruisers with flashing lights cordoned off 20 square downtown blocks where an Army reservist this week carried out the deadliest assault on U.S. law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while onlookers outside the barricades mourned five slain officers in a city long tormented by another singular violent event.
The ambush Thursday night during a protest march over recent police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota shook even Dallas residents most inexorably tied to Kennedy’s death.
Among them was Marie Tippit, the 87-year-old widow of the Dallas police officer who Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed after killing Kennedy. She said Saturday she stayed up watching coverage of this week’s bloodshed until the “wee hours.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also confronted the stigma of Kennedy head-on hours after the attack that left 12 officers and 2 civilians shot — praying with hundreds of worshippers in a public square that civic leaders in 1964 built after the assassination.
“For 50 years people around the world saw our city through the lens of the Kennedy assassination. Through that tragedy modern-day Dallas was born,” Rawlings said. “A great city. Those of us who love this city always knew there was so much more to what happened than 1963.”
He closed with optimism: “I believe this city will be better.”
Authorities say Micah Johnson donned a protective vest and used a military-style semi-automatic rifle while firing at officers just blocks from where Kennedy was shot. Though 53 years apart, the two sniper attacks were so close to each other that the tall, bone-white memorial to Kennedy’s death is inside the wide crime scene perimeter police established.
A marker next to that memorial partly reads, “In Dallas, Texas, there was a special sorrow.” Curtis Stephan, a father of three who played piano at a vigil for the victims Friday night, said he hoped Dallas will not go through the same again.
“I hope that this doesn’t define the city in a negative way, that this is the place where tragedy happened,” Stephan said. “But this is the place where the people united, and it was almost the turning point where race relations and people from different backgrounds finally said, ‘You know what, we’re all Americans. We’re all one people.’ We can move past old wounds and find mercy in our lives.”
Others see divisions that remain.
“I feel a lot of tensions and sadness,” said Scarlett McCormick, whose husband is black and mourned for the slain officers with her four children. “Everyone is in shock.”
At Dealey Plaza, where a white “X” still marks the spot on Elm Street where Kennedy was struck, Black Lives Matter supporter Gregory Bernard Smith used a bullhorn Saturday while calling for the city to come together. President Obama said Saturday that he would visit Dallas in the coming days to pay his respects and mourn for the stricken Texas city.
Tippit said she can’t help thinking of the day her husband died in 1963.
“These officers will never be forgotten. They will always be remembered,” she said. “We just have to let them know that.”
Associated Press Writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.
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