Juan Romero, the hotel busboy who sprung to the aid of Robert F. Kennedy the day he was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968, has died of a heart attack, family members say.
Romero, 68, passed away in Modesto Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times. A brother and niece confirmed the news.
“He had a heart attack several days ago and his brain went too long without oxygen,” his friend, TV reporter Rigo Chacon, told the newspaper. “He passed away on Monday morning.”
Romero was 17 years old on June 6, 1968, when Kennedy, then a presidential hopeful, made remarks at the Ambassador Hotel.
After Kennedy spoke to supporters, following his victory in that day’s California Democratic presidential primary, he walked through the hotel’s kitchen, where he paused to greet employees, including Romero.
“I remember extending my hand as far as I could, and then I remember him shaking my hand,” Romero told NPR in June, recalling that day. “And as he let go, somebody shot him.”
The teen was famously photographed holding a bleeding Kennedy as he lay on the ground, not wanting the senator’s head to touch the floor.
“I could feel a steady stream of blood coming through my fingers,” Romero said. “I remember 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.”
The following day, Romero recalled sitting on a bus near a woman who recognized him from a photo in the newspaper. After which, he reportedly remembered “looking at my hands and there was dried blood in between my nails.”
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During the NPR interview, Romero recalled purchasing a new suit and going to Kennedy’s burial site to offer his respects in 2010.
“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,” Romero reportedly said. “I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.”
Fox News’ Elizabeth Zwirz contributed to this report.