Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy - Assassination

Assassination

The 1968 presidential primary elections in California were held on Tuesday, June 4. Four hours after the polls closed in California, Kennedy claimed victory in the state's Democratic presidential primary. At approximately 12:10 a.m. PDT, he addressed his campaign supporters in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom, in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. 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, former professional athletes. During the campaign, Kennedy had welcomed contact with the public, and people had often tried to touch him in their excitement.

Kennedy had planned to walk through the ballroom when he had finished speaking, on his way to another gathering of supporters elsewhere in the hotel. However, with deadlines fast approaching, reporters wanted a press conference. Campaign aide Fred Dutton decided that Kennedy would forgo the second gathering and instead go through the kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom to the press area. Kennedy finished speaking and started to exit when William Barry stopped him and said, "No, it's been changed. We're going this way." Barry and Dutton began clearing a way for Kennedy to go left through swinging doors to the kitchen corridor, but Kennedy, hemmed in by the crowd, followed maître d'hôtel Karl Uecker through a back exit.

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 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, Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson and professional football player Rosey 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.

Bobby'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". 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 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 (2.54 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.

After receiving word of Senator Kennedy's death, his spokesman Frank Mankiewicz left the hospital and walked to the gymnasium where the press and news media were set up for continuous updates on the situation. At 2:00 AM PDT on June 6, Mankiewicz approached the podium, took a few moments to compose himself and made the official announcement:

"I have, uh, a short..... I have a short announcement to read, which I will read, uh..... at this time. Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 AM today, June 6, 1968. With Senator Kennedy at the time of his death were his wife Ethel, his sisters Mrs. Stephen Smith, Mrs. Patricia Lawford, his brother-in-law Mr. Stephen Smith, and his sister-in-law Mrs. John F. Kennedy. He was 42 years old. Thank you."

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