Juan Romero, the Mexican busboy who comforted the dying Robert Kennedy after he was shot in 1968, has died in Modesto, California after suffering a heart attack.
Romero and Kennedy were interlocked forever by an iconic photo of the 17-year-old Romero comforting the mortally wounded senator after he was shot. Romero had just shaken Kennedy’s hand when he heard shots, he told the New York Daily News earlier this year as the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death approached.
Romero rushed to the stricken senator’s side. “He had this faraway look in his eyes,” he told the Daily News. “I kneeled down next to him and put my hand between his head and the cold concrete.”
He was the last person to speak to Kennedy.
“Is everybody OK?" Kennedy asked him.
“Yes, everybody is OK,” Romero replied.
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) June 2, 2018
“He was looking straight at me, and he relaxed his head and turned toward his right and I heard him say, ‘Everything is going to be OK,’” Romero recalled.
“I thought, OK, he’s conscious, and I tried to put my hand a little lower to open up his windpipe so he could be a little more relaxed.”
Romero soon realized how seriously wounded Kennedy was. “I felt a warm stream of blood coming down between my hands. That’s when I started calling for help.”
It was at this point that Romero shoved a pair of rosary beans into Kennedy’s hand. “I went to the senator and cupped the rosary in his hands and tried to close them, but his hands wouldn’t close. Every time I put the rosary in, it popped out again. So, I wrapped it around his thumb and a couple of his fingers and went away.”
His interaction with Kennedy had a traumatic effect on Romero’s life. “For a long time, I was so angry. Angry at myself for not being able to do anything. Angry at the police for not protecting him. Angry at God for letting it happen. I was so miserable. I didn’t want to talk about it,” he told the Daily News.
I remember that night 50 years ago!
The young man "Juan Romero" cradled Robert Kennedy's head, from touching the ground!
1968 was a horrible time in our history! I will never forget. pic.twitter.com/M1bSCpTlrm— SwannRise (@Swannrise) June 4, 2018
It took Romero years to cope with his feelings. “About five years ago, I finally looked at the picture and really studied it. I could finally see what a lot of other people saw. Here was a senator who tried to help minorities, people who couldn’t help themselves, and in the moment when he needed help, here was a Mexican-American busboy trying to comfort him.”
Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising" and "Our Lady of Greenwich Village," both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy/