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Senator Robert F. Kennedy, '48 was shot and critically wounded in the brain as he left a California primary victory rally in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel at 3:15 (EDT) this morning.
The 42-year-old New York Democrat was quickly rushed to a local receiving hospital, administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church, given transfusions of plasma, and in less than an hour transferred for surgery to the Good Samaritan Hospital 12 blocks away.
At 5:20, Kennedy underwent emergency surgery to remove a bullet from his head. At that time, his press secretary, Frank Manckiewicz announced the first medical bulletin of the day: Kennedy was unconcious and in "very critical condition," but was breathing unassisted. The Senator's heartbeat, Manckiewicz said, was strong and had not faltered.
The shooting came moments after the former Attorney General left an uproarious celebration of his primary victory over Senator Eugene McCarthy in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel. Flanked by relatives and aides, he was entering a small kitchen enroute to his suite to spend the rest of the night.
Suddenly, amidst a burst of shots, the Senator and three well-wishers in the crowd around him collapsed. The crowd's laughter and cheers quickly turned to gasps and weeping; it pressed toward the narrow door of the room in which Kennedy lay in the arms of his aides.
In his victory speech, he called for an end to "violence and division." After concluding, "On to Chicago and let's win there" brushed his hair back, grinned, gave a Churchillian V-signal, and turned--to meet his would-be assassin, minutes later.
Acording to television reports, the assassin, a youngish man, about 5'5" and 130 lbs, with dark hair and a swarthy complexion was standing on some sort of a table. As Kennedy entered the passageway, fired a full chamber--eight shots--from a .22 caliber revolver.
While chaos erupted and aides rushed to the fallen candidate, two Kennedy associates, 1960 decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and Los Angeles Rams lineman Roosevelt Grier grabbed the gunman and disarmed him.
The suspect was immediately taken into custody by Los Angeles police, reportedly advised of his rights to counsel, and interrogated. Shortly after 6 a.m., Los Angeles Police Chief Thomas Reddin told reporters that the suspect had refused counsel, declined to give his name, and spoke only one word--"yes"--to an unspecified question.
In general, the Los Angeles police appeared to have handled the attempted assassination with a good deal more circumspection than did the Dallas police in November, 1963. They did not parade the assailant before the press; and did not even make public the assassin's location after his arrest.
Kennedy's prognosis was still unknown in mid-morning. Although full details would not be known until the still-incomplete surgery ended, several doctors interviewed on television were optimistic about Kennedy's chances for survival. They cited his failure to lose consciousness immediately, a report confirmed by videotape shots of his face shortly after the assault, as well as the continued stability of his pulse and respiration.
A close friend of the candidate, Georgetown University neurosurgeon Dr. Alfred Weusenhaupt told a CBS interviewer that Kennedy's chances of retaining his intellectual and speech fuctions were fairly good.
Basing his comments on the entry point of the small bullet--the right mastoid bone behind the ear--as well as the fact that Kennedy is right-handed, Weusenhaupt said that Kennedy might possibly lose only some vision and use of his left arm.
Another good sign was the speed with which Kennedy's bleeding was aparently stopped.
The attempted assassination of Robert F. Kennedy concluded the most erratic, emotion-driven week of the former Attorney General's elective political career.
Only eight days ago his Presidential hopes were considerably dimmed by a surprisingly heavy defeat at the hands of Senator McCarthy and his enthusiastic band of youthful supporters in Oregon. Kennedy had earlier defeated McCarthy in the Indiana and Nebraska primaries.
Both anti-Administration candidates, however, publicly placed a good deal of stock in the Oregon vote--even though Oregon lacked large black and lower-middle class elements of the Democratic coalition. After Kennedy lost, he hinted broadly that he would quit this year's campaign if he lost in California. Kennedy's defeat was especially poignant since it was the first loss of his dynastic family had sustained since his grandfather, former Boston Mayor John F. Fitzgerald lost a Senate race to Henry Cabot Lodge in 1916.
During the last six days, though, the New Yorker's hopes surged again--even amidst the depression felt by many of his suporters throughout the country. His television confrontation with McCarthy, which Kennedy had shunned for weeks earlier, did not appear to lose him any votes. In fact, his supporters and neutral analysts were surprised at the effectiveness of his generally quick, low-key delivery, particularly next to the urbane, professorial manner of McCarthy.
Kennedy also found visible sustenance in California crowds. In dramatic contrast to the stand-offish manner of Oregonians on the Kennedy trail, Californians North and South greeted the slight, tanned candidate with a frenzy and gleeful emotion that served to energize his lagging effort. California's beachcomers, young black militants, migrant laborers, and keyed-up suburban housewives gave Kennedy a personal and political delight he had not felt for weeks.
On the over-shadowed election eve, Kennedy was by turns witty, self-depracating, and bitterly vociferous against the Vietnam war and urban violence in TV interviews. Throughout the evening, he seemed unable to suppress a broad, smile.
Robert F. Kennedy reached the pinacle of Amereican political power as his brother's Attorney General largely on his effectiveness as a successful electoral manager and analyst. John F. Kennedy's younger, shorter, and more shy brother gained initial fame as the chief strategist of two victories--in the 1952 Massachusetts Senate race and in the 1960 Presidential campaign.
Kennedy also acquired notoriety in the 1950's which he has yet to shed. As his brother's political "no-man," as an aide for several months to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and as the interrogator of labor racketeers for the Senate Rackets Subcommittee, Bob Kennedy picked up a reputation for a sort of brash, hard-driving, often seemingly blind moralism.
By 1961, he was widely respected, resented, feared and loved for his curious combination of subtle skill and personal bluntness. As a political and legislative staffer, Kennedy had become a hard-bitten Washingtonian.
But his ascension to the formal post of Attorney General--and the more informal one of chief advisor and troubleshooter for the President of the United States--seemed to soften his much-heralded rough edges.
To put it briefly, Robert Kennedy discovered in the harsh glare of national eminence a set of concerns which had as deep an impact on his personal style and outlook as had the investigations and political infighting of the 1950's.
Once a youth who seemed to see public affairs in "black and white," Kennedy quickly seized upon and delighted himself in the more subtle areas of aid to the underprivileged, international crisis, and the extension of political and economic aid to black people. The Attorney General also energized the long-dormant Criminal and Civil Rights units in the Justice Department. He recruited a staff that became the envy of the capital.
His brother's death and Bob Kennedy's emergence as the heir to the innovative, electric style of the late Kennedy Administration seemed to push his evolution apace. Opponents said that Kennedy had determined to carve out a leftish, intra-party opposition to President Johnson as the surest means to capitalize on his brother's reputation and retrieve the White House for the Kennedy dynasty.
It is impossible to state the deep, personal motives for Kennedy's behavior since his election to the Senate from New York in 1964.
Kennedy soon became the leading political opponent of the Vietnam war, first speaking out against the growing militarization of the U.S. effort in mid-1965. Later, he defied the public opinion anlysts and critics of his mixed record on civil liberties by staunchly defending Americans who sent material aid to the North Vietnamese.
His plans for renovating the ghettos, his hopes for integrating the lives of America's "lost" proved in the end to be the mainspring of his run through the primaries this spring. Only his sense of political tactics, once his primary skill, failed him. He entered the Presidential race too late to capture all the anti-Administration suport he seemed to need for the nomination. At his shooting, amidst victory, his strategy for the future was still uncertain.
After four hours of surgery, attending doctors said that they were now "somewhat encouraged" that Kennedy would recover "without brain damage."
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