December 30, 2012
The apparition appeared at 11:22 a.m. over I-35, in the two- hundred-foot gap between the north- and southbound lanes where the interstate passed over Commerce Street. Traffic was heavy at that hour, but moving well: twelve lanes on 35, average speed sixty-six miles per hour, another six on Commerce traveling only slightly less fast. When the flaming figure appeared in the sky, the results were predictably disastrous.
According to the Texas State Highway Patrol, thirty-five vehicles collided with one another, resulting in seventy-seven injuries: cuts and bruises, whiplash, broken bones, concussions, at least three seizures. A pregnant woman went into labor, but both she and the baby—and, remarkably, everyone else involved in the pileup—survived the trauma. In addition to the injured, another 1,886 people claimed to have seen the apparition, making a grand total of 1,963, a figure later confirmed by both the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas Morning News. It was this last number that sent the story, already ricocheting around the airwaves and the Internet, into the stratosphere.
The time, date, and year that the thirty-fifth president of the United States had been assassinated, less than a quarter mile due east of the sighting.
It was possible—possible, though infinitesimally improbable—that this sequence was just a coincidence. Why hadn’t the figure appeared at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, skeptics were soon enough arguing on chat shows and blogs, the actual date and time of the assassination? What was harder for them to dismiss was the fact that every single witness, all 1,963 of them, reported seeing exactly the same thing. This wasn’t a fuzzy image of a crucified Jesus on a piece of toast or the shadowy outline of the Virgin Mary in an MRI. In fact, none of the twenty-six traffic and surveillance cameras with a view of the area recorded anything besides the accident itself. Nevertheless, each and every witness reported seeing—
“A boy,” Michael Campbell, twenty-nine, told one reporter.
“A flaming boy,” Antonio Gonzales, fifty-six, told the paramedic bandaging the gouge over his left eye.
“A boy made of fire,” Lisa Wallace, thirty-four, told the person who answered the 800 number of her insurance carrier.
“He looked right at me.”
“It was like he was looking for someone.”
“But it wasn’t me.”
There was a palpable sense of disappointment as witness after witness made this last admission, as if they’d somehow failed a test. But then their spirits perked up when they reported that they’d felt the boy coming, as if the privilege of witnessing his appearance was a blessing on the order of those bestowed on the sainted receivers of visions at Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fátima. One after another, witnesses reported the sensation of a tremor in the roadway that came up through their cars and was absorbed by fingers and toes and bottoms—the kind of vibration, Mindy Pysanky, a California native, described as “like the start of an earthquake.” Hands tightened their grips on steering wheels or door handles, eyes scanned mirrors and windshields for the cause of the disturbance, which appeared—no matter where people were, whether they approached the area from north or south or east or west—directly in their line of vision, facing them. Looking them straight in the eye, and then looking away.
“I saw him as clearly as I see your face,” said Yu Wen, fourteen.
“His eyes were wide open,” said Jenny McDonald, twenty-eight.
“His mouth was open too,” said Billy Ray Baxter, seventy-nine.
“A perfect O,” said Charlotte Wolfe, thirty-six, adding: “It was the saddest face I ever saw in my life.”
“Not just sad,” Halle Wolfe, Charlotte’s daughter, eleven, clarified. “Lonely.”
The boy blazed in the air “for three or four seconds,” a figure that caused almost as much furor as the previous numbers, as lone gunman supporters lined up against conspiracy theorists over whether the apparition was some kind of otherworldly endorsement of the Warren Commission’s findings or those of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. No matter which side you were on, however, it was hard to say what the flaming boy could have had to do with a crime whose forty-ninth anniversary had gone largely unremarked-upon a month earlier. Not one of the witnesses said he reminded them of the dead president or his (presumed) assassin. In fact, almost everyone expressed disinterest in the unnerving string of numbers when it was relayed to them, let alone the proximity of the sighting to Dealey Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository, the grassy knoll.
One thousand, nine hundred sixty-three witnesses. All of them seeing the same thing: a seraphic figure ten feet tall, arms and legs trailing off in ropes of fire, a corona of flame rising from his head. The empty shadows of his eyes scanned the crowd while a silent cry leaked with the smoke from his open mouth. Sixty-two percent of witnesses used the word “angel” to describe the appearance, 27 percent used the word “demon,” the remaining 11 percent used both. But only one man said that he looked like Orpheus.
“From the myth,” Lemuel Haynes, a businessman “from the East Coast,” told Shana Wright, on-air correspondent for the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate. “You know, turning around, looking for Eurydice, only to see her dragged back down to hell?”
Wright, who later described Haynes as “elderly, but still fit, with a large build, dark hair, and mixed complexion,” said that the witness told her he’d just landed at Love Field and was on his way to a meeting.
“What a lucky coincidence,” Wright recalled telling him, “that it should show up at the same time you did,” to which Haynes replied:
“Luck had nothing to do with it.”
According to Wright, she then asked Haynes if he thought the apparition had anything to do with the Kennedy assassination. Haynes looked over Wright’s shoulder for a long time—at the Texas School Book Depository, she later realized, which was just visible through the famous Triple Underpass—before turning back to her.
“It has everything to do with it,” he said, “and nothing at all,” and then his driver, “a middle-aged Asian man with a wiry build,” knocked her cameraman unconscious and took the memory chip from his camera.
By the time Homeland Security arrived at the scene, they were gone.
Excerpted from Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck. Copyright © 2010 by Tim Kring and Dale Peck. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.