On June 5, 1968, then-presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) was shot while walking through the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles during a campaign primary event. The assailant was tackled by RFK's security official, former FBI agent William Barry, and athletes Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier. Police officers Travis White and rookie Arthur Placencia were the first law enforcement on the scene and took custody of Sirhan Sirhan, the man who had shot RFK and five others. RFK died the next day. Though the police had the assassin in cuffs, the FBI's work was beginning. Agents from the Los Angeles office interviewed around 77 witnesses, asking what they had seen or how many shots they had heard fired. They seized evidence from Sirhan's room and chased down hundreds of leads, including the mythic woman in the polka dot dress, to determine Sirhan's motivations, or if he had accomplices. Sirhan was convicted of the assassination on April 17, 1969. RFK, as the Attorney General, had overseen the DOJ and the FBI from 1961-1964.
Despite evidence of psychiatric illness, Sirhan was tried and sentenced to death. Changes in California sentencing have left him serving a life sentence: People v. Sirhan, 497 P.2d 1121 (1972). After parole was denied for the fifteenth time in 2016, he remains in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California.
History.comShortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary. Immediately after he announced to his cheering supporters that the country was ready to end its fractious divisions, Kennedy was shot several times by 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. He was pronounced dead a day later, on June 6, 1968.
The summer of 1968 was a tempestuous time in American history. Both the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement were peaking. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in the spring, igniting riots across the country. In the face of this unrest, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to seek a second term in the upcoming presidential election. Robert Kennedy, John's younger brother and former U.S. Attorney General, stepped into this breach and experienced a groundswell of support.
Kennedy was perceived by many to be the only person in American politics capable of uniting the people. He was beloved by the minority community for his integrity and devotion to the civil rights cause. After winning California's primary, Kennedy was in the position to receive the Democratic nomination and face off against Richard Nixon in the general election.
As star athletes Rafer Johnson and Roosevelt Grier accompanied Kennedy out a rear exit of the Ambassador Hotel, Sirhan Sirhan stepped forward with a rolled up campaign poster, hiding his .22 revolver. He was only a foot away when he fired several shots at Kennedy. Grier and Johnson wrestled Sirhan to the ground, but not before five bystanders were wounded. Grier was distraught afterward and blamed himself for allowing Kennedy to be shot.
Sirhan, who was born in Palestine, confessed to the crime at his trial and received a death sentence on March 3, 1969. However, since the California State Supreme Court invalidated all death penalty sentences in 1972, Sirhan has spent the rest of his life in prison. According to the New York Times, he has since said that he believed Kennedy was "instrumental" in the oppression of Palestinians. Hubert Humphrey ended up running for the Democrats in 1968, but lost to Nixon.
WIKIPEDIA June 5, 1968
Robert F. Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California and pronounced dead the following day.
Kennedy, a United States senator and candidate in the 1968 Democratic Party presidential primaries, won the California and South Dakota primaries on June 4. He addressed his campaign supporters in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Ballroom. After leaving the podium, and exiting through a kitchen hallway, he was mortally wounded by multiple shots fired by Sirhan. Kennedy died at Good Samaritan Hospital nearly 25 hours later. His body was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sirhan, a Palestinian who held strong anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian beliefs, testified in 1969 that he killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought"; he was convicted and sentenced to death. Due to People v. Anderson, his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 with a possibility of parole. As of April 2023, his parole request has been denied 17 times.
Kennedy's assassination prompted the Secret Service to protect presidential candidates. In addition, it led to several conspiracy theories.
California primary and shooting
The California presidential primary elections were held on June 4, 1968. Polls by CBS showed Kennedy leading by 7 percent. The statewide results gave Kennedy 46 percent to McCarthy's 42 percent. He was now in second place against Humphrey.
At approximately 12:02 a.m., Kennedy addressed his campaign supporters in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Ballroom in the Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles.
At the time, the government did not provide Secret Service protection for presidential candidates. Kennedy's only security personnel were former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent William Barry and two unofficial bodyguards: Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson and former football player Rosey Grier.
At approximately 12:10 a.m., concluding his victory speech, Kennedy said: "So my thanks to all of you and on to Chicago and let's win there." Kennedy planned to walk through the ballroom after speaking on his way to another gathering of supporters, but reporters wanted a press conference. Campaign aide Fred Dutton decided that Kennedy would forgo the second gathering and instead go through the hotel's kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom to the press area. Kennedy had welcomed contact with the public during the campaign, and people had often tried to touch him in excitement. Soon after Kennedy concluded the speech, he started to exit through the ballroom when 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 he was hemmed in by the crowd and followed maître d'hotel Karl Uecker through a back exit. Uecker led Kennedy through the kitchen area, holding his right wrist, but frequently releasing it as Kennedy shook hands with people whom he encountered. Uecker and Kennedy started down a passageway narrowed by an ice machine and a steam table to the north.
Kennedy turned to his left and shook hands with Juan Romero, just as Sirhan Sirhan stepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice-machine, rushed past Uecker, and repeatedly fired an eight-shot .22 Long Rifle caliber Iver Johnson Cadet 55-A revolver at point-blank range. Kennedy fell to the floor; others, including writer George Plimpton and Grier, tried to disarm Sirhan, as he continued firing his gun in random directions.
Five other people were wounded: William Weisel of ABC News, Paul Schrade of the United Automobile Workers union, Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service, and Kennedy campaign volunteer Irwin Stroll. A minute later, Sirhan wrestled free and grabbed the revolver again, but others grabbed him. Barry went to Kennedy and placed his jacket under Kennedy's head. As Kennedy lay wounded, Romero cradled his head and placed a rosary in his hand.
Kennedy asked Romero, "Is everybody OK?"; Romero responded, "Yes, everybody's OK." Kennedy then turned away and said, "Everything's going to be OK."
After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted Kennedy onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, "Don't lift me", which were his last words; he lost consciousness shortly after. He was taken to Central Receiving Hospital. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. and lasted approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes. At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced that Kennedy's doctors were "concerned over his continuing failure to show improvement"; his condition was critical.
DeathKennedy had been shot multiple times
The fatal shot was fired at a range of 1 inch (3 cm), entering behind his right ear. The other two shots 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 to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, he was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m. on June 6, nearly 25 hours after the shooting.