Juan Romero was a 17-year-old busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. He recalls the moment that Senator Robert F. Kennedy stepped into the kitchen and reached out to shake his hand. However, before their hands could meet, a shot rang out in the building and Kennedy dropped to the floor. The Mexican busboy, who had immigrated to the United States at the age of 10, quickly dropped to the floor to cradle the dying Kennedy’s head. Romero says that moment has forever haunted him, and that he struggled through years of depression as he felt responsible for the Senator’s death, that somehow, his handshake is what killed the California presidential primary winner.
Now 65-years-old, Juan Romero told the L.A. Times that he struggled with memories of the tragic scene for decades, and that depression from the event crippled him for some time. Young Romero says he was just 17-years-old when he met the presidential hopeful, Robert F. Kennedy, while working at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Romero recalls how photos of the Kennedy hung on walls in Mexican homes alongside that of Pope John XXIII. Romero says Senator Kennedy brought hope of social justice, racial tolerance, and an end to the war in Vietnam. Romero remembers how when he brought room service to Robert F. Kennedy’s room, he was made to feel like “a regular citizen.”
“He made me feel like a regular citizen. He made me feel like a human being. He didn’t look at my color, he didn’t look at my position… and like I tell everybody, he shook my hand. I didn’t ask him.”
Romero said he wanted to personally thank Kennedy for the kindness he showed him during that room service visit, and went to shake his hand one final time as he passed through the Ambassador Hotel kitchen after giving a speech. Romero wouldn’t get his handshake, but would play an even more important role in Kennedy’s life than he could have every imagined. He would be the last person the dying Kennedy saw as the former busboy says the Senator spoke his last words, which were concern for others in the room, not himself.
According to the Daily Mail, Romero waited in line to shake the hand of Kennedy as he passed through the hotel kitchen. However, as he reached out his hand to meet that of his political hero, gun shots rang out through the room, and the Senator dropped to the floor. As everyone else in the room took cover, Romera dropped to the ground and cradled the dying Kennedy’s head in his hands to keep him from the cold concrete. Romera says the dying Senator’s first response after being shot was “Is everybody OK?”
“First he asked, ‘Is everybody OK?’ and I told him, ‘Yes, everybody’s OK.’ And then he turned away from me and said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK’.”
Romero says photos taken of the harrowing ordeal began making their way through news outlets, and that the black and white photo of his hands cradling Kennedy still haunt him to this day.
[Image Credit: Wikimedia / Getty Images / Express]