Clutching his rosary beads, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy lies mortally wounded on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel after being shot by assailant Sirhan Bashira Sirhan on June 5, 1968. UPI File Photo | License Photo
LOS ANGELES -- Sen. Robert F. Kennedy died today of an assassin's bullet in a tragedy remindful of the murder of his brother.
The boyish-faced senator died at 1:44 a.m. PDT. Kennedy, who was 42, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, probably beside the late President John F. Kennedy who was shot by a sniper in 1963.
The grassy hillside Kennedy plot overlooks the nation's capital, including the marble memorial to Abraham Lincoln, also an assassin's victim a century ago.
A presidential jet was sent by President Johnson to fly the body to New York. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, three of their 10 children and 71 friends and staff planned to accompany the body on a flight late in the day after authorities complete an intensive autopsy on the body.
Following the five hour post mortem, the body was taken by hearse to the airport. Members of the sorrowful Kennedy party followed in several limousines for the 20-mile freeway trip to the presidential jet that had been frequently used by his brother.
A murder indictment was expected to be sought Friday before a Los Angeles grand jury against the accused gunman, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. A swarthy young Jordanian immigrant, Sirhan was captured moments after Kennedy was struck down with a bullet in his brain.
A woman, wearing a polka dot dress, was reported by a witness to have been nearby shouting, "we shot him." Although police maintained no accomplices were involved in the slaying, an all points bulletin was issued for the woman as a precautionary measure.
Ethel, expecting an 11 child in January, was at her husband's bedside when he died 25 1/2 hours after the shooting. She was described by a close friend as "bearing up very well."
Others at the death bed in the fifth floor intensive care unit ward of good Samaritan hospital included Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the late President.
Little was disclosed of the senator's final hours in the Episcopalian Hospital.
A regular hospital bed, with collapsible sides that can be raised or lowered, took up about one third of the cubicle. A metal wall lamp was located over the bed.
An obstetrician was on standby duty for Ethel Kennedy for whom tragedy was no stranger. Besides the assassination of her brother-in-law, she lost her parents in a plane crash.
The bottom section of the cubicle partition was metal with glass on top where curtains were drawn to assure privacy. The ward was built with a $100,000 gift from a major oil company.
Ethel Kennedy had the use of a nearby room while other family members and friends maintained a vigil in the hospital's board of directors room, which included a fireplace, oak table and wall paneling with deeply cushioned gold chairs and a dull gold rug.
The bleak, silent atmosphere of the ward was in sharp contrast to the wild crowds attracted by the senator in his campaign for the presidency with a call of "I come to ask your help ... there are not ordinary times."
The senator was the third of four brothers of the ill-starred family to die a violent death. Only the youngest, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, was left to carry the banner of the Kennedy clan.
Messages of condolence flowed in from the world's great and the humble. Among those going back on the plane was the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The departure from Los Angeles was postponed from morning to 1 p.m. EDT while doctors performed an autopsy on the body. The autopsy, to formally establish the cause of death, was required before the body could be removed from Los Angeles County.
The senator died a little more than 25 hours after he was shot down in the kitchen corridor of a hotel where he had jubilantly proclaimed victory in Tuesday's California primary election. The win in the nation's biggest presidential preference vote was the zenith of Kennedy's march toward the White House.
Kennedy was the same age as his brother was when he campaigned successfully for the presidency eight years ago, and he was a member of the Cabinet when John F. Kennedy was slain in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.
Proclaiming this "a time of tragedy and loss," President Johnson declared Sunday a national day of mourning for the slain senator. He ordered a presidential jet to carry the body from Los Angeles to New York City.
Los Angeles authorities called a mid-morning conference to consider murder charges against Kennedy's alleged assassin.
Kennedy's widow, Ethel, faced the tragedy with the same stoic courage that bore Jacqueline Kennedy through the cruel days following the assassination of the President in 1963.
Three of the senator's eldest children were flown to Kennedy's bedside in a presidential jet from their Virginia home. They arrived at the hospital about two hours before their father's death in the fifth floor intensive care unit.
Pierre Salinger, who had served as press aide to the late President Kennedy and was active in the senator's campaign, announced the funeral plans at the hospital. He said some plans still were being formulated but added, "I suspect the senator will be buried in the plot" of his brother.
Kennedy's body will be taken by plane to New York today and will lie in state at St. Patrick's Cathedral Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. A requiem Mass is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Patrick's, after which the body will be placed aboard a train to be taken to Washington for burial in Arlington Cemetery outside the nation's capital.
Route of the funeral procession from Washington's Union Station to Arlington was planned to pass by the Senate Office Building and Justice Department where Kennedy had served the nation for a total of nearly eight years.
When asked about the procession, Salinger said:
"I believe it will be simple ... I hate to use the word motorcade ... but I believe that it will be."
Grim-faced and red-eyed from lack of sleep, Salinger said among friends accompanying the body and family on the presidential jet flight to New York City would be Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., widow of the assassinated civil rights leader.
Kennedy suffered irreparable brain damage from a .22-caliber bullet that lodged in his midbrain. The bullet coursed upward from the side of his head near his ear.
A second shot struck him in the shoulder and within seconds he lapsed into unconsciousness on the concrete floor in the hotel kitchen. His suspected assassin was subdued quickly by Kennedy aides but not before five other persons were wounded, one seriously.
He was swarthy Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, 24, a Jordanian refugee who was held under tight security guard in Los Angeles County Jail five miles from the hospital where Kennedy died. It was not disclosed whether Sirhan was informed immediately of the senator's death.
A team of six neurosurgeons picked all but a tiny fragment of the bullet from Kennedy's brain in a four-hour operation. But, the senator's condition changed little through the day and night until he finally succumbed.
"He was not able to build back up tissue after the trauma of last night and the surgery this morning," said Frank Mankiewicz, Kennedy's press secretary who made the official death announcement.
Kennedy's son, Joseph, 16, was at his bedside with his mother and aunt.
Joseph, named for Kennedy's father and the senator's eldest brother who was killed in a plane crash in Europe during World War II, informed the two other children, Kathleen, 17, and Robert Jr., 13, who were elsewhere in the hospital.
Also at the bedside was Kennedy's brother, Edward; his sisters, Mrs. Stephen Smith and Patricia Lawford, and his brother-in-law and campaign manager, Stephen Smith, and Msgr. William McCormack of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
When asked for the exact cause of death, Mankiewicz replied: "I don't want to talk about that."