LOS ANGELES, June 5, 1968 (UPI) - Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot in the head and neck and critically wounded early today as he left a jubilant primary election celebration. After nearly four hours of surgery, doctors said his condition was "extremely cr A team of surgeons removed bullet fragments from his head but did not take out a bullet still lodged in his neck. Until the operation he was able to breathe only with assistance.
Doctors warned that the senator might have suffered impairment of the blood supply to the part of the brain that governs the eye track, the level of consciousness and, indirectly, his speech.
The next 12 to 36 hours will be critical, a medical report said.
The 42-year-old brother of President John F. Kennedy was shot from about three feet away by a swarthy man in his 20s who was subdued by three Kennedy aides but not until he had emptied all eight bullets from a 22-caliber revolver toward the senator.
Five other persons in the surging crowd around the victorious California primary candidate were wounded.
Kennedy's wife Ethel, who is expecting their 11th child, was not hurt. She bent over her husband as he lay bleeding from the wound near his right ear and another in this shoulder, whispering to him and trying to console him just as Jacqueline Kennedy had bent over her husband in a convertible in Dallas in 1963.
Kennedy was taken by ambulance to Central Receiving Hospital where the examining physician, Dr. Victor Baz, first believed he was dead. He slapped him on the face, saying "Bob, Bob," and the wounded Kennedy stirred.
The gunman was not identified immediately. He refused to talk about the shooting.
Los Angeles police said there was no indication of a conspiracy. A similar view was expressed in Washington by Attorney General Ramsey Clark who ordered the FBI to investigate.
The tragedy was stunning in its suddenness and the pandemonium which followed.
Kennedy had come down from his suite in the Ambassador Hotel to speak to his supporters, massed before television cameras in the Embassy Room and claim victory. He was narrowly leading his main opponent, Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, but was steadily drawing away in the California race. Kennedy said:
"I think all these primaries have indicated it is quite clear that we can work together in the last analysis and that what has been going on the last three years, the divisions, violence, disenchantment with society between black and white, poor and affluent, can be healed."
Then Kennedy left the podium and was pushing his way through hand-shaking and cheering supporters with a sort of flying wedge led by his aide, Bill Barry, a former FBI man; Roosevelt Grier, 300-pound tackle for the Los Angeles Rams football team, and Rafer Johnson, former Olympic decathalon champion.
They headed into a corridor leading to a hotel kitchen, seeking to get on a freight elevator and back up to the suite. Kennedy was shaking hands with a young busboy near a row of refrigerators when the shots began ringing out.
Los Angeles Times photographer-reporter Boris Yaro was standing a few feet away.
"Kennedy backed up against the kitchen freezers as the gunman fired at him at point-blank range," Yaro said. "He cringed and threw his hands over his face. I turned around and saw Kennedy lying on the floor. Blood seemed to be pouring out of a wound in his head or ear. It seemed as though he was trying to say something but you couldn't hear him."
For a few moments the crowd jammed in the ballroom had no idea what had happened. Then shouts for a doctor went out over the public address system and the word spread: "They shot Bobby." Girls began sobbing and men fought to try to get at the assailant.
Barry wrested the gun from the hand of the would-be killer who struggled wildly until Grier subdued him and sat on him on the floor.
Kennedy's press secretary, Frank Manciewicz, gave a more detailed report on the senator's condition after the operation.
Manciewicz said Kennedy had been returned to the intensive care room and his condition was "extremely critical."
"The vital signs remain about as they were except he is now breathing on his own which he was not prior to surgery. All but one fragment of the bullet has been removed from the head injury. There is still one bullet apparently somewhere in the back of his neck although this is not regarded as a major problem.
"Sen. Kennedy lost a considerable amount of blood as a result of the bullet which entered and passed through the mastoid bone on the right side of his head and some of the fragments of bullet and bone went toward the brain system."
The gunman fired eight bullets from close range at 12:20 a.m.
Those wounded in addition to Kennedy were Paul Schrade, a union official in Kennedy's party; Ira Goldstein, 19, a radio newsman; William Weisel, 30, a television newsman; Irwin Stroll, 17, and Mrs. Elizabeth Evans.
Mrs. Evans and Schrade suffered scalp wounds while Stroll and Goldstein were hit in the legs. Weisel, of Washington, was hurt seriously with a bullet in the abdomen.
Martin Petruski, a waiter, said he had just finished shakng hands with Kennedy and "all of a sudden this fellow jumped out and he started to fire. It was so fast. And all of a sudden somebody was yelling 'Grab him! Grab him!'
"Then the senator slid down to his knees."
"His eyes were open when he started to go down."
Within minutes, rumors flashed that Kennedy's brother-in-law, Stephen Smith, also had been shot. Another rumor spread that the senator's California campaign chairman, California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, was wounded.
It was nearly an hour before the reports officially were discounted.
The senator was shot down four years and six months after his brother, President Kennedy, was slain by two bullets from an assassin's rifle while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.
Robert Kennedy was a half-step ahead of his wife when he was shot.
"He was walking through the kitchen toward a corridor going to the freight elevator," said Norbert Schlei, a prominent Los Angeles Democrat who was 10 feet behind the senator.
"He stopped to shake hands with the kitchen help and I heard a sound...clap, clap, clap, clap. It didn't sound at all like gunfire.
"It sounded like a cap pistol or someone popping a paper sack. There were four people lying on the floor after the shots. There was a tremendous crush of people.
"I ran out and shouted for a doctor and about three of them came in.
"Sen. Kennedy lay on the floor and his face was tense and white but he seemed conscious. I didn't hear him say anything."
Schlei, former assistant attorney general under Kennedy, said an ambulance crew took him away on a stretcher by way of the freight elevator.
After the shooting a crowd of nearly 500 persons knelt in prayer around the fountain in the main lobby of the hotel.
Kennedy was taken first to Central Receiving Hospital and transferred within an hour to nearby Good Samaritan Hospital.
The shooting occurred as Kennedy pulled a bare 1,000 votes ahead of McCarthy.
Stephen Smith rushed to the podium and shouted, "Is there a doctor in the house? A doctor is needed urgently!"
Gabor Kadar, who said he was waiting at the rear exit of the room to shake hands with the senator, heard four of the five shots and saw Kennedy fall to the floor.
"He was holding the right side of his chest and there was blood on his head," Kadar aid.