Richard Drew

Peter Haskell/WCBS 880

Photographer Recalls Being With Robert F. Kennedy During Assassination 50 Years Ago

June 05, 2018 - 7:00 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Tuesday marks 50 years since the nation was again stunned by a political assassination.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell talked with a photographer who was an eyewitness to the attack, and has the photos to prove it.

On June 5, 1968, New York U.S. senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He died the following day.

The year up to that point had already been one of turmoil, transition, and turbulence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered in April, and only two months passed before RFK was also slain.

Photographer Richard Drew was in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel that night of June 5, after Kennedy had celebrated his victory in the California Democratic primary for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“All of a sudden, I see a hand pointing a gun, and I was standing over his right shoulder, and the hand came down and looked, and I was looking at the barrel of a gun. At that time, I was in the Army Reserve, and I know that I wasn’t going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s that?’” Drew said. “So I hit the floor. I went right down. I got out of the way.”

Robert F. Kennedy Assassination
Richard Drew

Drew is a veteran photographer at The Associated Press in New York. At the time, he was a 21-year-old working for a paper in Pasadena.

“And then, after the incident happened, I then climbed on a stainless steel table that was in the kitchen, and was photographing him lying on the floor; being held by the kitchen boy, and Ethel holding her hands up, saying, ‘Please don’t take any pictures!’” he said. “And that’s in a nutshell what happened that evening.”

Ethel Kennedy
Richard Drew

Drew’s haunting black and white images show a lifeless Kennedy on the floor.

Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, was found guilty of Kennedy’s murder. Some say there was a second shooter, but Drew does not remember it that way.

He was right behind Kennedy.

“People say there’s been a lot more shots recently than actually there were,” Drew said. “I remember perhaps a series of five. It was two and then like three more.”

So the questions linger – what if RFK had survived, won the Democratic nomination and defeated Richard Nixon to become president?

It would have altered the arc of history.