Ever since he was a young boy, the Kennedy name has meant something special to Juan Romero. Growing up in Mexico, he remembers every house having a crucifix, with a picture of the pope on one side and a picture of President John F. Kennedy on the other.
When he moved to Los Angeles as a teenager, he witnessed John’s brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, marching with Cesar Chavez.
“Some people would say he could be rubbing elbows with royalty instead of walking down dirt roads with farm laborers,” Romero said. “What I felt about Robert Kennedy was that he was a champion of equal rights for everybody.”
On the night of June 4, 1968, Romero was working as a busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy had just won the California Democratic primary and was giving a victory speech in the ballroom of the hotel. Romero listened from the kitchen and hoped he might get the chance to shake the senator’s hand before he departed.
He did get that chance. And seconds later, Kennedy was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan. Romero crouched down and cradled the senator as he lay bleeding on the kitchen floor. The moment was captured by photographers and immortalized by newspapers across the country the following day.
VICE News sat down with Romero 50 years later to hear about that moment — and how it changed his life.
This segment originally aired June 4, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.