The minute 89-year-old Julian Read heard about Thursday’s sniper attack on 12 Dallas police officers, a glaring thought immediately crossed his mind: November 22, 1963.
A former aide to the late Texas Gov. John Connally, Read was in the motorcade that fateful day, just a few cars behind President John F. Kennedy. He watched as the presidential limousine made a sharp left off onto Elm Street, heading across Dealey Plaza past the Texas School Book Depository, before hearing the popping sound of gunfire.
Fifty-three years later, the memory of Dallas’ darkest day came flooding back with reports that another gunman had once again sat perched in a building overlooking the city’s downtown district, raining down bullets from above.
This time, it wasn’t a president who lost his life, but rather five police officers. Yet for many familiar with Dallas history, the parallels were stark.
“As I saw the story developing, I was struck by the fact that [Thursday’s shooting] occurred right on Main Street, the very street we came down just before we turned to go to the School Book Depository,” said Read, author of the book, “JFK’s Final Hours in Texas.”
“I thought of it immediately,” he told NBC News of the assassination.
Authorities killed the man believed to be the only person responsible for Thursday’s shooting in a garage at El Centro Community College, just blocks from Dealey Plaza, after several hours of negotiations. According to the city police chief, the man “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” following recent police shootings of black men.
The attack began just before 9 p.m. local time following a peaceful protest over those shootings, which happened elsewhere in the country this week -- Alton Sterling was killed Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile was killed a day later in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
With five officers dead and seven wounded, Thursday’s shooting marked the single greatest loss of police lives since Sept. 11, 2001. For Dallas, meanwhile, it was also one of the worst tragedies to happen in the city since the assassination of JFK.
“I’m born and raised in Dallas and I think the biggest thing we’ve had to something like this was when JFK died,” Jalisa Jackson told the Associated Press. “To shut the city down, the downtown down like this, it’s surreal to me. I can’t believe it.”
Bill Minutaglio, a former Dallas reporter and author of the book, “Dallas 1963,” agreed that no other event in the city’s recent history has rivaled the horror of JFK’s assassination until now.
“There have been other horrific occurrences: mass floodings, tornadoes that have touched down in Dallas, plane crashes where many people lost their lives, police-community violence in the 1980s. There have been things that have happened in the city, but in terms of a galvanizing, inexplicable spasm of tragedy, I can’t think of anything that comes close to the Kennedy assassination except for this,” Minutaglio told NBC News.
Dallas has changed a great deal since 1963, becoming the ninth-largest city in the country, and one that prides itself on being pro-business and tech-friendly. Democratic-leaning, Dallas is also home to the first black district attorney in the state and the largest urban arts district in the country.
But from his admittedly distant home in Austin, Minutaglio suspects Dallas hasn’t come as far in bridging the city’s political, economic and racial divides as its officials would like to believe. The city is still home to numerous symbols of the Confederacy, for example, and poverty rates remain high. Dallas also has a history of intense violence between police and its black residents, although none of the more recent, high-profile incidents that have fueled the “Black Lives Matter” movement have happened there.
Whether -- as in 1963 -- that undercurrent of dissatisfaction and frustration might have contributed to a volatile climate where violence could erupt, it’s impossible to say for sure.
“We could try to be armchair psychologists about what happened to Kennedy,” Minutaglio said. “But maybe at the end of the day, it was someone who harbored so much hate in his soul that he went up to the School Book Depository and murdered the president. And it was as simple as that.”