Juan Romero still struggles to talk about the night when Senator Robert (Bobby) Francis Kennedy was fatally shot in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968.
Now 67, Romero was a teenage busboy at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was shot.
On that fateful night, Romero and a fellow hotel staffer went to deliver room service to Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy, brother of the late JFK, was the candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.
Romero told the LA Times that he wanted to meet a Kennedy so badly, he told the other busboys he would do anything for them if they let him answer the room service call. He recalls that as he and his colleague pushed two food carts into the room, they were greeted warmly.
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
“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,” Romero said.
“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.”
The following night, when the father-of-eleven won the primary and made his victory speech at the hotel, Romero was eager to shake his hand and congratulate him.
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— Fractured Swan (@FracturedSwan) June 4, 2018
As he reached out, Kennedy was shot and instantly dropped to the ground. Romero took out his rosary beads and tried to press them into Kennedy’s hand as photographers immortalized the famed image.
“I was trying to make sense of what happened and looking down at the blood on my right palm and between my fingers,” Romero said. “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 had been rushed to the nearby Good Samaritan Hospital but died the next day as a result of the gunshots fired by Sirhan Sirhan.
Romero felt tortured and ridden by guilt over the events of that night. Some people claimed that if Kennedy hadn't paused to shake his hand, Sirhan Sirhan might not have had such a clear shot.
While he struggles with the painful memory, particularly as June 5 comes around each year, Romero found a moment of solace in 2010 when he visited RFK's grave in Arlington Virginia to ask for forgiveness.
“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.”
He even bought his first-ever suit for the occasion.
“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," he said.
“I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.”