He pressed a rosary into the mortally wounded senator's hand.
On June 5, 1968 the teenaged Juan Romero worked as a busboy in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen on the night that Kennedy walked through following his victory in the California primary.
When Kennedy passed through the restaurant, Romero stopped to shake his hand. Photos captured the busboy moments later, holding the mortally wounded Kennedy while pressing rosary beads into his hand.
According to Mark Stricherz, author of the 2007 book Why the Democrats are Blue, a number of bystanders joined in prayer.
“After Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, many supporters got down on their knees and prayed the rosary. A famous picture from the time shows a busboy, Juan Romero, pressing rosary beads into Kennedy’s hands in the kitchen of the hotel. Imagine Catholics doing that today,” Stricherz told the Catholic News Agency.
The native of Mexico blamed himself for many years, according to an Steve Lopez, who interviewed him over the years for the Los Angeles Times. He always wondered what would have happened if he had not stopped Kennedy for a handshake.
In 2010, he visited Kennedy’s grave at Arlington Cemetery, partly to come to terms with his guilt. After suffering for decades, in 2015 Romero told the Steve Lopez of Los Angeles Times in 2015 that the the “cloud” of guilt was lifting.
After looking at the photograph that had haunted him, he emailed Lopez:
“I saw a person in need,” he told me, “and another person trying to help him.”
Romero told Lopez earlier this year that he was thinking about going to Arlington Cemetery one more time.
“I want to go there and just say, ‘Hi,’ and explain that everything is going good, and I’m grateful for his involvement in my life and that I will always respect his efforts for social justice. And to say that I will never forget the first time we met, and that I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for him.”