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"I Can Explain." Kennedy paused to shake hands with a dishwasher, turning slightly to his left as he did so. Before Bobby released the hand of Jesus Perez, the gunman managed to get across the room, prop his right elbow on the serving counter and, from behind two assistant maîtres d'hôtel, fire at his victim just four feet away. Kennedy fell. The hotel men, Karl Eucker and Eddy Minasian, grappled with the assassin, but could not reach his gun hand. Author George Plimpton and Kennedy Aide Jack Gallivan joined the wrestling match. The gun, waving wildly, kept pumping bullets, and found five other human targets. Eight men in all, including Rafer Johnson, an Olympic champion, and Roosevelt Grier, a 300-Ib. Los Angeles Rams football lineman, attempted to overpower the slight but lithe assailant.
Johnson finally knocked the pistol out of the stubborn hand. "Why did you do it?" he screamed. "I can explain! Let me explain!" cried the swarthy man, now the captive of the two black athletes and spread-eagled on the counter. Several R.F.K. supporters tried to kill the man with their hands. Johnson and Grier fended them off. Someone had the presence of mind to shout: "Let's not have another Oswald!" Johnson pocketed the gun.
So This Is It. From both ends of the serving kitchen, scores of people pressed in. All order had dissolved with the first shots ("It sounded like dry wood snapping," said Dick Tuck of the Kennedy staff). The sounds of revelry churned into bewilderment, then horror and panic. A priest appeared, thrust a rosary into Kennedy's hands, which closed on it. Someone cried: "He doesn't need a priest, for God's sake, he needs a doctor!" The cleric was shoved aside. A hatless young policeman rushed in carrying a shotgun. "We don't need guns! We need a doctor!"
Television and still photographers fought for position. Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh swung at one of them. Ethel, shoved back to safety by a hotel employee at the first sound of gunfire, appeared moments later. While trying to get to her husband, she heard a youth scream something about Kennedy. "Don't talk that way about the Senator!" she snapped. "Lady," he replied, "I've been shot." And Ethel knelt to kiss the cheek of Erwin Stroll, 17, a campaign worker who had been wounded in the left shin.
Finally she got to Bobby. She knelt over him, whispering. His lips moved. She rose and tried to wave back the crush. Dick Tuck blew a whistle. The crowd began to give way. Someone clamped an ice pack to Kennedy's bleeding head, and someone else made a pillow of a suit jacket. His blue and white striped tie was off, his shirt open, the rosary clutched to his hairy chest. An aide took off his shoes.
Amid the swirl, the Kennedys appeared calm. TIME Correspondent Hays Gorey looked at the man he had long observed in constant motion, now prostrate on a damp concrete floor. Wrote Gorey: "The lips were slightly parted, the lower one curled downwards, as it often was. Bobby seemed aware. There was no questioning in his expression. He didn't ask, 'What happened?' They seemed almost to say, 'So this is it.' "