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College studies the Kennedy Assassination

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer  
A classroom audience at the Algonquin College Waterfront Campus watches footage of Dallas police officer Carl Day examining the sniper's nest where police believed Lee Harvey Oswald fired the deadly shots that killed President Kennedy. The JFK assassination webinar is being held over four weeks at the campus.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer A classroom audience at the Algonquin College Waterfront Campus watches footage of Dallas police officer Carl Day examining the sniper's nest where police believed Lee Harvey Oswald fired the deadly shots that killed President Kennedy. The JFK assassination webinar is being held over four weeks at the campus.

On Nov. 22, 1963, three shots rang out as the motorcade carrying John Fitzgerald Kennedy passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Two of the bullets fatally struck the 35th president of the United States.

The Kennedy assassination continues to fascinate us more than 53 years later. Now the events of that tragic day is explored in a series of webinars hosted at Algonquin College’s Waterfront Campus in Pembroke.

Since Oct. 20, the sessions have been conducted live every Thursday from the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. The classes originate from the crime scene at the former Texas School Book Depository building where police say Lee Harvey Oswald leaned out of a sixth floor window, took aim and fired the rounds that killed the president and wounded Texas governor John Connelly.

The sessions are attended not only by members of the public but students attending the college's police foundations course. The webinars include question-and-answer sessions covering topics focusing on what the Dallas Police discovered in the first 24 hours of their investigation. Thursday evening, the second webinar recounted the physical evidence recovered from the “sniper's nest” in the sixth floor. During the 50-minute webinar, the museum's education programs co-ordinator Ani Simmons dissected the reports filled out by Dallas County deputy sheriffs Luke Mooney and Gene Boone.

“Neither of them had official assignments that day,” Simmons, speaking from the scene on a big screen, told the Pembroke audience. “They were both in downtown Dallas on their lunch break to see the president.”

Crime Scene Investigation, or CSI, was a relatively new concept in those days. The officers didn't even have cameras with them to catalogue evidence at the scene and relied on members of the press to take the photos for them. Simmons said she was amazed how insecure the sixth floor crime scene was in the moments after the attack on the motorcade.

“Today we would never think about walking up on a crime scene willy nilly,” she said.

In fact, it was Boone and Mooney who felt that the ordinary rank-and-file police officer were careless when it came to handling and preserving the evidence, or in this case as Simmons put it, two pieces of evidence from “the biggest unsolved crime of the 20th century.” Mooney found the three shell casing from the bullets fired from the window, while Boone came across the rifle they believed was used to gun down Kennedy, wedged between some boxes. Both were careful not to remove them or have anyone contaminate the scene.

The session also explored the role of J.C. Carl Day, head of the Dallas police crime lab who, unfortunately, handled the rifle without wearing any gloves. Simmons showed the class the famous film footage of Day holding the rifle above his head. While many felt he was holding it as a trophy, Simmons said the officer was trying to keep it out of reach of reporters who were swarming him to take a picture. That misconception haunted Day the remainder of his life.

“Carl Day was the kindest, gentlest man and he was the last person to trophy carry anything,” said Simmons. “That was horrifying to him that he would trophy carry the rifle that killed the president.”

Two days after the assassination, Oswald himself was murdered by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby while being transferred to the county jail. The college decided to host the JFK series not just as part of its outreach to the community but to tap into interest in the current American presidential election.

“We thought this was a unique opportunity to have these live webinars coming from the exact location where President Kennedy was assassinated,” explained Jamie Bramburger, manager of student and community affairs at the college. “This has also been a good opportunity to bring in our police foundations students who are getting a chance to learn more about how investigative work by police departments has changed by exploring the most investigated murder in North American history.”

There is also a so-called Living History session that will allow students to speak with John Sparks, a high school trumpet player who performed at the President’s breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas, just a few hours before the assassination in Dallas. Museum curator Stephen Fagin will also hold an open forum with students, allowing them to ask questions about the museum, the conspiracy theories that continue to surround the assassination, and Kennedy’s legacy.

SChase@postmedia.com