Ibrahim Gumrukcuoglu had taken aim at Mr Demirel on Saturday as he stepped down from a podium after making a speech at a shopping centre in Izmit, an industrial province 80 miles east of Istanbul.
"Suddenly I saw a gun barrel. I threw myself straight on it and the gun went off. If I hadn't jumped the president would have been hit," said Sukru Cukurlu, Mr Demirel's chief of security. The bullet passed through Mr Cukurlu's upper arm, went past the president and lodged above the knee of a press photographer.
As calls of concern poured into the president's office - notably from Israeli President Ezer Weizman - investigators were looking into some extraordinary lapses of security.
The first question was how a formal gun licence came to be issued to Mr Gumrukcuoglu in 1993. His record showed him to have been medically certified as deranged, convicted of firing an unlicensed weapon in a built- up area, declared persona non grata by military rule authorities in 1983, known to have knifed two leftists during his Seventies student days and convicted of killing his nephew 25 years ago.
The second puzzle was how he came to get within three paces of Mr Demirel after apparently joining the crowd at the roof-raising ceremony.
A third line of inquiry is looking into the would-be assassin's possible links with Islamic extremists, although deputy prime minister Nahit Mentese said initial questioning had found no links.
Mr Gumrukcuoglu told police he had intended only to "fire in the air" to protest at a Turkish military training agreement with Israel signed in February. The accord, among other exchanges, allows Israeli and Turkish warplanes to train for four weeks a year in each others' countries, but only by day and without armaments.
This first major military cooperation accord between Israel and a Muslim country has been virulently attacked by radical Islamist publications and the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, since December the biggest single group in the parliament.
A copy of one such newspaper, Akit, was found in Mr Gumrukcuoglu's village house. He had set up a "mescit" chapel in his basement. With a full beard and Ottoman-style baggy trousers, Mr Gumrukcuoglu looked the picture of a provincial Islamic fundamentalist.
Records of this former government employee showed that he turned to religion after his two-year old son drowned in a well. He had in the past received extensive treatment for alcoholism and apparently suffered from bone-marrow disease.
Turkish media quickly folded the story into a scene of general political uncertainty that has brought the centre-right coalition government so low that one of its senior ministers, Rusdu Saracoglu, admitted last week that it was simply not working.
Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz has now virtually accused his partner, True Path Party leader Tansu Ciller, of stealing more than $5m of secret funds. And last week, the constitutional court annulled the vote of confidence that brought them to power in March.
Gungor Mengi, of the Saba newspaper, said: "The attempted assassination should be a warning to all those who are pushing politics into a dead end with useless debates."
The circumstances of the assassination, however, tell the story of a different Turkey. By the time he came to watch the roof go up on a shopping centre in Izmit, Mr Demirel had already opened a new tyre cord factory, a business centre and a municipal building in a rapidly developing province that already has the highest per capita income in Turkey.Reuse content