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Juan Romero, Busboy Who Comforted Dying RFK, Dies At 68


A little over 50 years ago, Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave a victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just won the state's Democratic presidential primary. As Kennedy left the hotel through its kitchen, shots rang out.


ANDREW WEST: Senator Kennedy has been shot. Is that possible?


WEST: Is that possible?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible).


There's a haunting black-and-white photo from that night. It's of the mortally wounded Robert Kennedy lying on the floor. Squatting next to him is a 17-year-old busboy cradling the fallen senator's head. That busboy was Juan Romero. He died this week at the age of 68.

SHAPIRO: Romero had met Kennedy the night before as he delivered room service to the senator. Romero talked about that meeting with StoryCorps earlier this year.


JUAN ROMERO: You could tell when he was looking at you that he's not looking through you. He's taking you into account. And I remember walking out of there like I was 10 feet tall.

KELLY: And the next night, Romero was there as Kennedy walked through the kitchen.


ROMERO: I remember extending my hand as far as I could. And then I remember him shaking my hand. And as he let go, somebody shot him. I kneeled on to him and put my hand between the cold concrete and his head just to make him comfortable. I could see his lips moving, so I put my ear next to his lips. And I heard him say, is everybody OK? I said, yes, everybody's OK. I could feel a steady stream of blood coming through my fingers. I had a rosary in my shirt pocket, and I took it out, thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped it around his right hand, and then they wheeled him away.

SHAPIRO: For decades, he lived with the guilt that he didn't do enough to save Senator Kennedy.


ROMERO: It's been a long 50 years. And 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. And I felt like, you know, 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. I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.

KELLY: Juan Romero - he died earlier this week from a heart attack in Modesto, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.