As Michael Sandford reaches for the police officer’s gun, there’s seemingly only one thing on his mind: the man delivering a speech at the front of the Las Vegas rally. But before he can point the weapon at then presidential candidate Donald Trump, Sandford is pinned to the ground and arrested. And yet there’s more to this young British man’s story than first meets the eye.
Sandford, 20, originally hails from Dorking, a small town in the English county of Surrey. His childhood was marred by bullying, and he eventually left school at age 16 despite showing remarkable promise. Soon after, he moved out of his family home into a nearby apartment.
Sandford has a complicated background of mental illness. Indeed, his family says he suffers from autism, depression, seizures, obsessive compulsive disorder, heart problems and even Crohn’s disease. His mom, Lynne Sandford, says he was also treated for anorexia as a child.
On December 31, 2014, Sandford declared to his family that he was going to live in New York. And despite their protests, he then made his way to the United States. However, he was soon back in England after being sectioned due to a mental breakdown on his first night abroad.
The calamitous first trip notwithstanding, he used some inheritance money to return to America. This time, he claimed to have settled down in Hoboken, New Jersey. However, it later transpired that Sandford was in the country illegally, unemployed and living in his car.
In May 2016 Sandford’s family lost contact with him, and his mom quickly reported him missing. A month later, however, Sandford would turn up again – only this time, he wasn’t in New York. Instead, he was at the other end of the country.
In fact, Sandford had driven his car all the way across the United States from New York to Las Vegas. He’d made the trip in order to attend a rally hosted by then Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, in June 2016.
A day ahead of the rally, however, Sandford paid a visit to a shooting range called Battlefield Vegas. While there, he received a 15-minute lesson on how to shoot a 9mm Glock 17 pistol. According to the range’s owner, Ron Cheney, Sandford was “nervous and apprehensive” at first.
As the lesson went on, however, Sandford became more relaxed around the weapon. “By the time he was done with his magazine he was comfortable, he wasn’t shaking anymore,” Cheney told the Daily Mail in October 2016. “The instructor said he was a nice kid and noticed nothing out of the ordinary.”
On June 18, 2016, then, Sandford made his way over to Vegas’ Treasure Island Casino. It was there that Trump was due to host the campaign rally. Around 1,500 supporters were in attendance, with plenty of security – including metal detectors and even Secret Service officials.
During the rally, Sandford approached a police officer and began speaking to him. Apparently, Sandford asked the officer about getting an autograph from Trump. Meanwhile, a nearby attendee filmed the entire encounter on video.
While mid-conversation, Sandford suddenly moved to grab the officer’s gun from his holster. However, he failed to retrieve the weapon thanks to the holster’s retention safety function, which requires a specific action to release the gun. Instead, the officer – and several others nearby – pinned Sandford to the ground.
After his arrest, Sandford confessed he had planned the shooting over the past year. He also believed that he wouldn’t survive the assassination attempt, but said that “Donald Trump is a racist, he deserves to die.”
In fact, Sandford had apparently also purchased a ticket for a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, scheduled for later the same day. According to the Daily Mail, this was Sandford’s backup plan in case he didn’t succeed in Vegas.
Eventually, Sandford faced trial, where he pleaded guilty to two separate charges: “being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm” and “disrupting government business.” Consequently, potentially decades of jail time awaited him.
Instead, however, Sandford was ultimately sentenced to 366 days – a year and a day – in prison, on the basis that he was delusional at the time of the “assassination attempt.” In fact, Sandford’s actions were retroactively classified as a “psychotic episode.”
Indeed, the judge presiding over Sandford’s case told him, “You’re not evil or a sociopath like a lot of people we have. I don’t think you wanted to kill anybody. This was just some crazy stunt that your mind told you to do.”
Sandford, meanwhile, expressed remorse for his actions in court. He said, “I really do feel awful about what I did. I wish there was some way to make things better.” He added, “I have cost taxpayers so much money. I feel terrible.”
By the time of his sentencing in December 2016, Sandford had already served several months behind bars – meaning he wouldn’t need to spend another 12 months there. According to his mom, Lynne, prison had been “torture” for Michael. Indeed, he spent much of his incarceration on suicide watch under terrible conditions, exacerbated by his mental illness.
In an interview with The Independent following Michael’s sentencing, Lynne said that her son will “never set foot outside the U.K. again,” when he eventually makes it back to his home country. For everyone else, it’s simply surreal to think how close one troubled young man potentially came to assassinating the man who is now leader of the free world.