Hotel worker who held Robert Kennedy reveals he is haunted by guilt
The young hotel worker who held Robert Kennedy seconds after he was shot has spoken about his guilt at being unable to save him and even accidentally causing his death.
Juan Romero was a teenager in 1968 when he worked in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
It was five years after President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. Bobby was now also hoping to become President. He was working towards securing support to become the Democratic candidate for the US election.
He had been a New York Senator since 1964 but had decided to challenge the incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, as he could not abide Johnson’s policy of continuing with the Vietnam War.
He was popular among several demographics including black communities, the white working class, Hispanic voters and farmworkers.
When Kennedy stayed in the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, Romero was desperate to meet him.
He told the other staff members he would do anything if they would let him take the room service calls.
When the time came, he and a colleague took two food carts to Mr Kennedy’s room and were greeted with a warm welcome.
Romero, who is now 67, told the LA Times: “I remember staring at him with my mouth open, and I see him shaking the hand of a waiter and then reaching out to me. I remember him grabbing my hand and he gave me a two-handed shake.
“He had piercing blue eyes, and he looked right at you. You knew he was looking at you and not through you … I remember walking out of that room … feeling 10 feet tall, feeling like an American.… I didn’t feel like I was Mexican, and I didn’t feel like I was a busboy, and I didn’t feel like I was 17 years old. I felt like I was right there with him.”
Romero was eager to meet Kennedy the following night. Kennedy had won the primary and was set to make his victory speech at the hotel.
Tragedy struck as Romero reached out to shake Kennedy’s hand in congratulations. Kennedy was shot by gunman Sirhan Sirhan and dropped to the ground.
Romero cradled Kennedy’s head and pressed his rosary beads into his hand.
Column: Juan Romero, the busboy who held Robert F. Kennedy moments after he was fatally shot at the Ambassador Hotel in 1968, has spent half a century trying to move on. https://t.co/dnqHcfUOue pic.twitter.com/evyDKiQysY
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) 2 June 2018
He said: ““I was trying to make sense of what happened and looking down at the blood on my right palm and between my fingers. Everything was a blur.
“I remember sitting there on the bus, still looking at my hands and all the blood, not realizing what happened… What made me realize it was real was that a lady was sitting in front of me reading the newspaper.… I remember the lady showing me the picture and saying, ‘This is you, isn’t it?’ That’s when I first saw the picture, and I never wanted to see it again.”
Kennedy was rushed to hospital but died the following day.
Romero is haunted with guilt especially with some comments from some areas that claim that Kennedy wouldn’t have been shot if he hadn’t stopped to shake Romero’s hand.
Romero said: “I still get emotional, tears come out, but I went to visit his grave in 2010. I felt like I needed to ask Kennedy to forgive me for not being able to stop those bullets from harming him.
“I felt like it would be a sign of respect to buy a suit. I never owned a suit in my life and so when I wore the suit and I stood in front of his grave, I felt a little bit like that first day that I met him I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.”
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling