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Shadow of JFK assassination falls on ambush shooting of Dallas police

DALLAS (Reuters) - Echoes of the most infamous day in the history of Dallas rang out on Thursday night when a shooter gunned down police officers just blocks from where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

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The JFK assassination turned Dallas into a pariah for years while one of the deadliest mass shootings of police in U.S. history has stunned the Texas city, a magnet for migration that ranks as one of the most populous metro areas in the United States.

Dallas residents said although the shooting could not eclipse Kennedy’s assassination, they were saddened that another horrible event had happened at home.

“That was an event that shook the world, the death of a world leader,” said Jeff Clark, 49, an architect in Dallas, adding “what happened to those police officers was horrible.”

Even though most locals were not born when Kennedy was shot 53 years ago, the event still is emblematic of Dallas, which was scorned by visitors and where city leaders received a blizzard of hate mail.

“Dallas had a tragedy when President Kennedy was shot here in the 60s and this is as close to that feeling I think the city has had in decades,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on CNN.

Among the most-visited tourist sites is the Sixth Floor Museum dedicated to the Kennedy presidency and assassination. The museum is in the former Texas School Book Depository from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot the President.

Downtown Dallas is balanced between old and new with glistening skyscrapers and trendy restaurants nestled next to the area around Dealey Plaza, preserved to look as it did when Kennedy’s motorcade took its fateful ride through the streets.

Several officers shot in the ambush were rushed for treatment to Parkland hospital on a similar route as Kennedy, who was taken to the same place after he was shot. Five officers were killed and seven others wounded Thursday night by a black man identified as a U.S. Army Reservist who served in the Afghan war and said he wanted to “kill white people.”

“For Dallas, it’s more than a cliche. The sniper’s perch, the target of opportunity, the unthinkable crime: This is our nightmare returning,” wrote Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd.

On Friday, people milled around the area where the shooting unfolded, grieving and trying to make sense of what happened. In 1963, Dealey Plaza became a focal point of the grieving.

“There’s a real sadness here,” said Mike Simmons, 46, as he sat in the lobby of a downtown Dallas hotel, watching police officers deployed outside. “It’s hurtful to see.”

Writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Grant McCool