Look Back: Reporter’s First-Hand Account of the RFK Assassination

50 years after national tragedy, the Washington Post looks back.

What started as a night of celebration for Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy fifty years ago ended in a hail of bullets.

On Tuesday, the anniversary of the assassination that devastated the country, the Washington Post published an account based on the observations of its reporter on the scene at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Robert Harwood was there to report on the California Democratic Primary results, a stunning victory that seemed to be propelling Kennedy towards the nomination and the same path to the White House once taken by his older brother. But the parallels between the two Kennedy brothers were, unfortunately, just beginning that evening.

In his original dispatch for the Post, Harwood described the chaos that erupted in the hotel kitchen. “The shots sounded like firecrackers,” he wrote.

“Harwood was about 20 feet away,” Tuesday’s Washington Post article noted. “The Post reporter ran closer and saw Kennedy lying on the floor, bleeding from the right side of his head.”

“‘He looked dead,” Harwood wrote in his June 5, 1968 article. “The kitchen erupted into madness.”

But Harwood did what reporters confronted with a breaking news story do: report. “He described a ‘small young man,’ later identified as Sirhan Sirhan, standing five feet away from Kennedy ‘firing rapidly with a small pistol,’”  and he reported on how Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Roosevelt Grier tackled the gunman.

Back in Washington, word arrived that there was a bigger story for the front page than the California primary results.

“(Executive editor) Bradlee shouted ‘Stop the presses!’ for the only time in his career,” wrote the Post‘s Robert Mitchell in Tuesday’s newspaper. “Moments later, Harwood was on the phone, which he had to wrestle away from a woman who was recounting what she had seen to a friend.”

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