On June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, WAS shot three times in a hail of gunfire at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Five others were wounded. The senator had just completed a speech celebrating his victory in the California presidential primary.
After winning the California and South Dakota primary elections for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, Kennedy was fatally shot while exiting through the hotel kitchen immediately after leaving the podium in the Ambassador Hotel and died in the Good Samaritan Hospital twenty-six hours later. Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant, was convicted of Kennedy’s murder and sentenced to death in 1969, although his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972.
The summer of 1968 was a tempestuous time in American history. Both the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement were peaking. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in the spring, igniting riots across the country. In the face of this unrest, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to seek a second term in the upcoming presidential election. Robert Kennedy, John’s younger brother and former U.S. Attorney General, stepped into this breach and experienced a groundswell of support.
Kennedy was perceived by many to be the only person in American politics capable of uniting the people. He was beloved by the minority community for his integrity and devotion to the civil rights cause. After winning California’s primary, Kennedy was in the position to receive the Democratic nomination and face off against Richard Nixon in the general election.
As star athletes Rafer Johnson and Roosevelt Grier accompanied Kennedy out a rear exit of the Ambassador Hotel, Sirhan Sirhan stepped forward with a rolled up campaign poster, hiding his .22 revolver. He was only a foot away when he fired several shots at Kennedy.
Grier and Johnson wrestled Sirhan to the ground, but not before five bystanders were wounded.
Grier was distraught afterward and blamed himself for allowing Kennedy to be shot.
After about 30 minutes, Kennedy was transferred several blocks to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for surgery.
A gymnasium near the hospital was set up as temporary headquarters for the press and news media to receive updates on the senator’s condition. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. PDT and lasted three hours and 40 minutes. Ten and a half hours later, at 5:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced that Kennedy’s doctors were “concerned over his continuing failure to show improvement”; his condition remained “extremely critical as to life”.
Kennedy had been shot three times. One bullet, fired at a range of about 1 inch (2.5 cm), entered behind his right ear, dispersing fragments throughout his brain. The other two entered at the rear of his right armpit; one exited from his chest and the other lodged in the back of his neck.Despite extensive neurosurgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, Kennedy died at 1:44 A.M. PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting.
Sirhan, who was born in Palestine, confessed to the crime at his trial and received a death sentence on March 3, 1969. However, since the California State Supreme Court invalidated all death penalty sentences in 1972, Sirhan has spent the rest of his life in prison. According to the New York Times, he has since said that he believed Kennedy was “instrumental” in the oppression of Palestinians. Hubert Humphrey ended up running for the Democrats in 1968, but lost by a small margin to Nixon.