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Vernon Jordan dies; assassination attempt decades before linked civil rights leader to Fort Wayne

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Vernon Jordan
Vernon Jordan died March 1 at the age of 85. The civil rights leader survived an assassination attempt in Fort Wayne in 1980.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Civil rights icon Vernon Jordan died Monday at the age of 85.

If not for the skilled work of doctors and nurses he might have lost his life in Fort Wayne after he was shot by a would-be assassin here in 1980.

Jordan was returning to his hotel room, walking with Martha Coleman through the parking lot of the Fort Wayne Marriott Inn on May 29, 1980, when sniper Joseph Paul Franklin shot him with a high-powered hunting rifle.

It brought intense national attention to the city, the kind city leaders didn't want.

Jordan, president of the National Urban League at that time, came to town to speak at a Fort Wayne Urban League banquet.

After being struck with the sniper bullet, he was rushed to the emergency room at Parkview Hospital on Randallia.

Jim Dougal was a registered nurse on duty.

He was one of the medical personnel who came to Jordan's aid.

He says crisis care for shooting victims was a little different in that day.

"They had just started advanced life support in Fort Wayne a few months earlier. The truck that picked him up that night was not advanced life support, they had very little to work with. So, when he got to the emergency room, we started all the advanced things like the I-V and the drugs," Dougal said.

He will tell you that many members of the medical team in the heat of the moment did not fully appreciate the national stature of Vernon Jordan.

He says it became more apparent when national news crews and political heavyweights started coming to visit Jordan, people like Senator Ted Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter.

Former Mayor Win Moses got a phone call at 1:30 in the morning, alerting him to the tragic shooting that would soon grab headlines across the country.

In a FaceTime interview from his new home in North Carolina, we asked Moses what went through his mind, when he learned of Vernon Jordan's shooting.

"Two first thoughts, one, how can we make sure that he's safe, he lives, that he gets good medicine, and two, how can we make sure that Fort Wayne doesn't have the same problem that Miami Florida was having with riots in those days. Chattanooga had riots. We didn't deserve any of that, and we had to immediately put in place some plans to keep the community calm," Moses said.

Long-time Fort Wayne Community Schools Board member Steve Corona was a local television news director in 1980 who worked with network news crews who flooded into town to cover the story.

"We were in the national spotlight, not for a good cause. CBS came in to cover the story, they brought in 12 people, as many people as were in our newsroom at the time," Corona said.

Joseph Paul Franklin was eventually nabbed by police and charged with the crime.

He was acquitted of attempted murder in 1982, but later confessed he pulled the trigger and shot Jordan.

Franklin was a serial killer who was put to death by lethal injection for other murders in 2013.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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