RFK Assassination by Boris Yaro, 1968

Shortly before midnight on June 5, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot by a man named Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship who had objected to Kennedy’s support for Israel. They were in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Kennedy was celebrating his victory in the California primary. One of the rounds hit Kennedy squarely in the head.

Pandemonium ensued.

Boris Yaro of the Los Angeles Times made one of the most famous photographs in American political history – that of the dying candidate cradled in the arms of a hotel busboy who had been shaking the candidate’s hand when he went down.  Yaro remembered:

I had my own personal camera, a Nikon FTN and a 28 mm lens.  I didn’t own a flash unit that would fit on this camera.

When RFK stopped to shake the hand of some hotel employees, I moved towards him.

Suddenly several small “firecracker-like” explosions rang out.  In fact, I thought they were firecrackers.  Some debris hit my face.  This was consistent with the firecrackers I had played with as a child.

All of a sudden, the crowd near RFK pulled back and I saw a man with a revolver firing the gun at him.

I stood frozen as the assailant emptied his weapon.  When he stopped, I heard a voice say, “get him,” and several men grabbed him and pushed him down on metal countertop (or freezer top).  As the gunman struggled, I saw his weapon come out of his hand.  He tried to grab it back.  I ducked under the arm of one of the men holding the gunman and picked up the revolver.  I remember thinking the grip was very warm.

I turned away from the men holding the gunman and almost instantly someone took the gun from me.

I turned back in time to see RFK start to sink to the floor.  Part of the room was now lit by a TV camera.  As the senator lay on the floor he was joined by a busboy.  At this time, I set my camera to 30th of a second and opened my lens to F 8.5 and made 3 photos.  At the time, a woman grabbed my coat sleeve and began tugging all the while shouting, “DON’T TAKE PICTURES” and “I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER AND I’M NOT TAKING PICTURES.” I pulled my arm back, freeing myself from her grasp and yelled, “Goddammit, Lady.  This is history.”

Now several people were crowded around RFK and I had to move in close to make 3 more photos.  I suddenly remembered a conversation I’d had with a Times photographer assigned to cover the election.

He said the paper was delaying its deadline to accommodate RFK’s Victory Speech.

I then ran back to the Press Room to call our city desk.  However, I could not get an outside line.

I left the pantry, making my way toward the 8th Street exit when I spotted a payphone.

I called the city desk and told them of the shooting.  I said, “I have photos.”

Bill Thomas (the City Editor) said, “Get em down here!”

So I ran to my car and drove to the Times where the shooting negatives were developed (by Safelight – I said it was very dark) and I was then debriefed by Reporter Dick Main.

Kennedy asked Romero, “Is everybody safe, OK?” and Romero responded, “Yes, yes, everything is going to be OK”. Kennedy died later that night. Yaro’s photo ran on the front page of The Los Angeles Times the next day. LIFE Photographer Bill Eppridge was also on the scene but his photos were only published in LIFE magazine a few days later. Yaro being a newspaper photographer had the advatange of his pictures being distributed immediately by the Associated Press, and his photos were seen on frontpages across America and around the world the very next morning.

Many thought either Yaro or Eppridge should have won the Pulizer that year, but the award went to an equally enduring shot of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon. Some noted that two Pulizers should have been given that year.

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