Bobby Kennedy Gunned Down on Campaign Trail

Bobby Kennedy lays dying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel. His killer, Sirhan Sirhan, was refused parole in 2016
Bobby Kennedy lays dying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel. His killer, Sirhan Sirhan, was refused parole in 2016

by Ray Setterfield


June 5, 1968 — Tragedy once again rocked the ill-starred American Kennedy family on this day when Bobby, campaigning for the presidency, and hoping to pick up where his slain brother left off, was struck down by a gunman's bullets. He died the next day.

He had just won the Californian primary and was almost certainly on his way to the White House.

But at 12.15am, just after the 42-year-old Senator had given a victory speech, he was shot at close range by 24-yr-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Robert Francis ("Bobby") Kennedy was the 3rd son of Joseph Kennedy, a multi-millionaire businessman, investor and, from 1938 to late 1940, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Joseph Kennedy had nurtured presidential hopes for his eldest son, Joe Jnr, but these were dashed in 1944 when, as a Navy lieutenant, Joe was killed in action during the Second World War.

The mantle was to be passed to the second son, John Fitzgerald ("Jack") Kennedy, who, with the help of his father's millions, was elected president in 1960 – only to be assassinated three years later.

Bobby had served as Attorney General from 1961 to 1964 and when JFK's successor, Lyndon Johnson, announced that he would not stand for office in 1968, the assassinated President's brother threw himself into the race for the White House.

All was going well until Sirhan Sirhan stepped forward at the Ambassador Hotel, a rolled-up campaign poster concealing his .22 revolver. He was only a couple of feet away when he fired several shots at the Senator and wounded five bystanders before being wrestled to the floor.

According to the New York Times, Sirhan later said he believed that Kennedy was “instrumental” in the oppression of Palestinians.

He confessed to the murder at his trial and was sentenced to death. However, before the sentence was carried out the California State Supreme Court abolished the death penalty, so Sirhan has spent his days since the shooting in prison.

In February 2016 the 72-year-old Sirhan lost his 15th appeal for parole when it was ruled that he “continues to pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety and is therefore not suitable for parole.”

After RFK's murder, the Democrats turned to Hubert Humphrey as the party's standard-bearer but he narrowly lost the election – ironically to Richard Nixon, the Republican who was defeated by John Kennedy in 1960.

Choking back grief, younger brother Edward ("Ted") Kennedy delivered an emotional eulogy at RFK's funeral, in which he said:

"My brother need not be idealised, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it; saw suffering and tried to heal it; saw war and tried to stop it.

"Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

"As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

Some men see things as they are and say, Why?
I dream things that never were and say, Why not?"

The Ambassador Hotel was demolished in 2006. Donald Trump wanted to build the world's tallest building on the site, but instead it was used for the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools project, a $580 million complex of public schools serving over 4,000 students.

Published: May 13, 2018

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