On the weekend of July 18, I was on Martha's Vineyard Island
participating with my nephew, Joe Kennedy -- as for thirty years my
family has participated -- in the annual Edgartown Sailing Regatta.
Only reasons of health prevented my wife from accompanying me.
On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha's Vineyard, I attended, on
Friday evening, July 18th, a cook-out I had encouraged and helped
sponsor for devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries. When I
left the party, around 11:15 P.M., I was accompanied by one of these
girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary Jo was one of the most devoted
members of the staff of Senator Robert Kennedy. She worked for him
for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason,
and because she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all
of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the
Mary Jo Kopechne
There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated
suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior
and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private
relationship between us of any kind. I know of nothing in Mary Jo's
conduct on that or any other occasion -- and the same is true of the
other girls at that party -- that would lend any substance to such
ugly speculation about their character.
Nor was I driving under the influence of liquor.
Little over one mile away, the car that I was driving on an unlit
road went off a narrow bridge which had no guard rails and was built
on a left angle to the road. The car overturned in a deep pond and
immediately filled with water. I remember thinking as the cold water
rushed in around my head that I was for certain drowning. Then water
entered my lungs and I actual felt the sensation of drowning. But
somehow I struggled to the surface alive.
I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into
the strong and murky current, but succeeded only in increasing my
state of utter exhaustion and alarm. My conduct and conversations
during the next several hours, to the extent that I can remember
them, make no sense to me at all.
Although my doctors informed me that I suffered a cerebral
concussion, as well as shock, I do not seek to escape responsibility
for my actions by placing the blame either on the physical and
emotional trauma brought on by the accident, or on anyone else. I
regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident
to the police immediately.
Instead of looking directly for a telephone after lying exhausted in
the grass for an undetermined time, I walked back to the cottage
where the party was being held and requested the help of two
friends, my cousin, Joseph Gargan and Phil Markham, and directed
them to return immediately to the scene with me -- this was sometime
after midnight -- in order to undertake a new effort to dive down
and locate Miss Kopechne. Their strenuous efforts, undertaken at
some risk to their own lives, also proved futile.
All kinds of scrambled thoughts -- all of them confused, some of
them irrational, many of them which I cannot recall, and some of
which I would not have seriously entertained under normal
circumstances -- went through my mind during this period. They were
reflected in the various inexplicable, inconsistent, and
inconclusive things I said and did, including such questions as
whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that
immediate area, whether some awful curse did actually hang over all
the Kennedys, whether there was some justifiable reason for me to
doubt what had happened and to delay my report, whether somehow the
awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from
my shoulders. I was overcome, I'm frank to say, by a jumble of
emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and
Instructing Gargan and Markham not to alarm Mary Jo's friends that
night, I had them take me to the ferry crossing. The ferry having
shut down for the night, I suddenly jumped into the water and
impulsively swam across, nearly drowning once again in the effort,
and returned to my hotel about 2:00 A.M. and collapsed in my room.
I remember going out at one point and saying something to the room
In the morning, with my mind somewhat more lucid, I made an effort
to call a family legal advisor, Burke Marshall, from a public
telephone on the Chappaquiddick side of the ferry and belatedly
reported the accident to the Martha's Vineyard police.
Today, as I mentioned, I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to
the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. No words on my part
can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over
this tragic incident. This last week has been an agonizing one for
me and for the members of my family, and the grief we feel over the
loss of a wonderful friend will remain with us the rest of our
These events, the publicity, innuendo, and whispers which have
surrounded them and my admission of guilt this morning raises the
question in my mind of whether my standing among the people of my
State has been so impaired that I should resign my seat in the
United States Senate. If at any time the citizens of Massachusetts
should lack confidence in their Senator's character or his ability,
with or without justification, he could not in my opinion adequately
perform his duty and should not continue in office.
The people of this State, the State which sent John Quincy Adams,
and Daniel Webster, and Charles Sumner, and Henry Cabot Lodge, and
John Kennedy to the United States Senate are entitled to
representation in that body by men who inspire their utmost
confidence. For this reason, I would understand full well why some
might think it right for me to resign. For me this will be a
difficult decision to make.
It has been seven years since my first election to the Senate. You
and I share many memories -- some of them have been glorious, some
have been very sad. The opportunity to work with you and serve
Massachusetts has made my life worthwhile.
And so I ask you tonight, the people of Massachusetts, to think this
through with me. In facing this decision, I seek your advice and
opinion. In making it, I seek your prayers -- for this is a decision
that I will have finally to make on my own.
It has been written a man does what he must in spite of personal
consequences, in spite of obstacles, and dangers, and pressures, and
that is the basis of human morality. Whatever may be the sacrifices
he faces, if he follows his conscience -- the loss of his friends,
his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow man --
each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The
stories of the past courage cannot supply courage itself. For this,
each man must look into his own soul.
I pray that I can have the courage to make the right decision.
Whatever is decided and whatever the future holds for me, I hope
that I shall have been able to put this most recent tragedy behind
me and make some further contribution to our state and mankind,
whether it be in public or private life.
Thank you and good night.