Behind the camera: Bill Eppridge and Boris Yaro took similiar photos
Where: Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles
Photo Summary: Robert F Kennedy after he is shot. Hotel busboy Juan Ramero was shaking his hand when he was shot and was the first to help him
Picture Taken: Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968
On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was attending a successful campaign in the California primary elections while seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He had just finished giving a speech to supporters in the Ambassador Hotel and was on his way to another part of the hotel. He was crushed by the adoring crowd and while he was shaking hands with busboy Juan Ramero, twenty-four-year-old assassin Sirhan Sirhan fired all the bullets from his gun at Kennedy. When the crowds cleared two photographers snapped the above images of the busboy trying to help Kennedy.
Robert F. Kennedy
In 1968 five years had gone by since Robert F. Kennedy’s brother then President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Since that time Robert F. Kennedy (also called Bobby) had been elected United States Senator seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. The campaign had been going well and following the California primary, Kennedy was in second place with 393 delegates compared to vice president Hubert Humphrey’s 561. After giving a speech at the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom, in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angles, he was walking through the kitchen when the assassin struck.
Sirhan Sirhan managed to hit Bobby three times with the bullets fired from his gun. One entered his brain behind his right ear while the two others went in through the right armpit exiting from his chest and back of the neck. Soon after the picture was taken he was rushed to the Central Receiving Hospital in Los Angles about a mile away. Before he was lifted onto a stroller he was still conscious and was able to speak a few words. After being stabilized he was transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for surgery. The operation went through the night starting at 3:12 a.m. and lasting to 7:02 a.m. Despite the surgery, Kennedy died several hours later at 1:44 a.m. PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting.
The assassin was one Sirhan Sirhan a strongly anti-Israeli Palestine Christian immigrant. He had moved to America when he was 12 and had lived in New York and California. Sirhan had developed an obsession with killing Bobby Kennedy and after his arrest, his diary and writing showed that he had severe mental issues. He was convicted on April 17, 1969, and the judge sentenced him to death. However he was removed off death row after a landmark case in the California Supreme Court, California v. Anderson, invalidated all pending death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. He is still incarcerated at the California State Prison in Corcoran and has been denied parole for the thirteenth time in 2006.
Ramero was 17 in 1968 but he idolized Kennedy and was thrilled that Bobby was staying at the hotel he worked for. When he was a child in Mexico, Bobby was worshiped by his family because he was a Catholic and a family man, and his brother John Kennedy had spoken of Hispanics as hardworking and family-oriented at a time when Hispanics were seen as nothing more than menial workers to be ignored. The night before he had promised to do extra work to get a chance to take a room-service call from the Kennedy suite. The call came and he had a chance to meet him in person. But it wasn’t enough and when Kennedy passed through the kitchen Ramero pushed through the crowds to get another handshake.
While he was shaking Bobby’s hand he felt heat and saw Kennedy go down. Kneeling by his side he was captured in the photos above. When Ramero felt the back of Bobby’s head his hand came back covered in blood. Juan took his rosary beads and pushed them into Kennedy’s hands and as he knelt over him Ramero thought he heard Bobby. At the trial Ramero told the court that he saw the assassin:
I thought there was a person that couldn’t wait to shake his hand, and I thought I was going to be interested to watch it, and so I was watching it and I … seen him put his — he put his arm like that and he shot two shots and then I saw a gun and then I turned around and I seen he was right in front of him (the senator) and I leaned down and put my hand to the back of [Kennedy’s] head and tried to give him some, whatever I could, aid, some aid; that is about all I could do.
He an interview with TIME he remembers, “the doctors said it would have been impossible for him to speak, but with God as my witness, I swear Mr. Kennedy said either, ‘Is everybody O.K.?’ or ‘Everything’s going to be O.K.'”
After the pictures were released he became a celebrity with mail pouring in from all over the world. But feeling uneasy with all the attention and after Juan’s stepfather told him no honorable man profits from another man’s tragedy he left. He travelled from town to town until 1974 when he settled down with his wife Elda and the two started a family in San Jose. As of 1998 Juan still lives with Elda and their three daughters, one son and four grandchildren. He is still scared from that evening and doesn’t talk about the pictures with his family and rarely does interviews but hopes that he can honor Bobby Kennedy by living in his spirit, working hard, honoring his God, and taking care of his family while living a life of tolerance and compassion.
Boris Yaro who was working for the LA Times was like Ramero a fan of the Kennedy clan he remembers that after hearing the shots:
Bobby put both arms up and began to bob and weave like a boxer. At one point he put his head down almost to his knees, but the man with the gun kept lunging and firing, wounding five other people.
I froze. “No,” I said to myself. “Not again. Not another Kennedy.”
During my professional career I have been instructed to not touch things, especially at a crime scene. But as I watched the shooter go for his revolver, I broke the rule, crouched under the swinging arms and grabbed the gun. I was shocked to feel that the grip of the gun was smooth and very warm. Then someone took the weapon from me. I turned to see who, but all I saw were business suits and tuxedos. I figured it was probably a cop and turned back to Bobby, who in the darkness was sinking to the floor.
Suddenly the area was lighted by a TV film camera and I started to make photos of Kennedy sprawled on the floor, a busboy near him.
My mind was shrieking, “No . . . no, this can’t be. I’m here to make a photo for my wall.”
Someone grabs my arm. It is a woman, and all I see is her face. Her mouth is making funny sounds. “Don’t take pictures,” she says. “I’m a photographer, and I’m not taking pictures!” She is pulling on my arm, trying to move the camera from my eye. I am shooting at a very slow shutter speed, and she has stopped me.
I pull my arm from her grasp and growl, “Goddamn it, lady. This is history!”
In his book A Time it Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties Eppridge remembers that he was assigned by LIFE to cover bobby’s 1968 campaign.
[The] senator came off the stage. The bodyguard said, ‘Senator this way,’ pointing to the door, and … Bob Kennedy said, ‘No, this way’ and turned and went to the right, to the kitchen and he had no protection in front of him.”
Then the shots rang out.
“I got through the curtain into the kitchen and I first heard two shots, and I turned to my left and there was the senator lying there. And at that point my profession changed. I became a historian,” Eppridge says.
What he saw was “almost like a crucifixion.” Eppridge says he took three frames of a white-shirted busboy holding Kennedy — the third one became the icon.