Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination
The 1968 presidential primary elections in California were held on Tuesday, June 4. At the time, the government provided Secret Service protection for incumbent presidents but not for presidential candidates. Kennedy’s only security was provided by former FBI agent William Barry and two unofficial bodyguards, Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson and professional football player Rosey Grier. During the campaign, Kennedy had welcomed contact with the public, and people had often tried to touch him in their excitement.
Maître d’hôtel Karl Uecker led Kennedy through the kitchen area, holding Kennedy’s right wrist but frequently releasing it as Kennedy shook hands with those he encountered. Uecker and Kennedy started down a passageway narrowed by an ice machine against the right wall and a steam table to the left. Kennedy turned to his left and shook hands with busboy Juan Romero just as Sirhan Sirhan stepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine, rushed past Uecker, and repeatedly fired what was later identified as a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver.
After Kennedy had fallen to the floor, Agent Barry saw Sirhan holding a gun and hit him twice in the face while others, including maîtres d’ Uecker and Edward Minasian, writer George Plimpton, Johnson, and Grier, forced Sirhan against the steam table and disarmed him as he continued firing his gun in random directions. Five other people were also wounded: William Weisel of ABC News, Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union, Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service and Kennedy campaign volunteer Irwin Stroll.
After a minute, Sirhan wrestled free and grabbed the revolver again, but he had already fired all the bullets and was subdued. Barry went to Kennedy and laid his jacket under the candidate’s head, later recalling: “I knew immediately it was a .22, a small caliber, so I hoped it wouldn’t be so bad, but then I saw the hole in the Senator’s head, and I knew”. Reporters and photographers rushed into the area from both directions, contributing to the confusion and chaos. As Kennedy lay wounded, Juan Romero cradled the senator’s head and placed a rosary in his hand. Kennedy asked Romero, “Is everybody safe; OK?” and Romero responded, “Yes, yes, everything is going to be OK.” Captured by Life photographer Bill Eppridge and Boris Yaro of the Los Angeles Times, this moment became the iconic image of the assassination.
Kennedy’s wife Ethel stood outside the crush of people at the scene, seeking help. She was soon led to her husband and knelt beside him. He turned his head and seemed to recognize her. After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted Kennedy onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, “Don’t lift me…” which were to become his last words. He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. Kennedy was taken a mile away to Central Receiving Hospital, where he arrived near death. One doctor slapped his face, calling, “Bob, Bob”, while another doctor manually massaged Kennedy’s heart. After obtaining a good heartbeat, doctors handed a stethoscope to Ethel so she could hear her husband’s heart beating, much to her relief.
After about 30 minutes, Kennedy was transferred several blocks to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for surgery. A gymnasium near the hospital was set up as temporary headquarters for the press and news media to receive updates on the senator’s condition. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. PDT and lasted three hours and 40 minutes. Ten and a half hours later, at 5:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced that Kennedy’s doctors were “concerned over his continuing failure to show improvement”; his condition remained “extremely critical as to life”.
Kennedy had been shot three times. One bullet, fired at a range of about 1 inch (2.5 cm), entered behind his right ear, dispersing fragments throughout his brain. The other two entered at the rear of his right armpit; one exited from his chest and the other lodged in the back of his neck. Despite extensive neurosurgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, Kennedy died at 1:44 A.M. PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting.