On May 4th, 1970, thirty-five years ago today, National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd of unarmed students at Kent State University. Four students were killed and nine others wounded. We commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary by airing an excerpt of the documentary Kent State: The Day the War Came Home, that includes interviews with students and National Guardsmen who were there. [includes rush transcript]
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Kent State shooting. On May 4th, 1970, US National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd of unarmed students on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.
The guardsmen fired off at least 67 shots in roughly 13 seconds. Four students were killed and nine others wounded. To this day, no one has been held accountable. Today, on this 35th anniversary we remember the Kent State shootings.
At the time, President Richard Nixon had just escalated the Vietnam War and launched the invasion of Cambodia. Across the country, college campuses erupted in protest. At Kent State, a large demonstration was held on May 1st on the university grounds with another was planned for May 4th. Students clashed with police and tensions were high throughout the city.
On May 2nd, Kent city Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency and, later that afternoon, asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send the National Guard to the university. That evening, students held a large demonstration and the campus ROTC building was set on fire.
The National Guard entered the campus for the first time and set up camp directly on the university grounds. They used tear gas to disperse the crowd and many arrests were made. By Sunday, May 3rd, Kent State campus was occupied by nearly 1,000 (one thousand) National Guardsmen. Governor Rhodes held a press conference that day which many say served only to provoke and increase the existing tension.
- James Rhodes, Ohio Governor, speaking on May 3rd, 1970.
The next day, on May 4th, a protest was scheduled to be held at noon on the university commons. An estimated three thousand people gathered for the rally. The National Guard ordered the crowd to disperse and began to fire tear gas. Students responded by throwing rocks and chanting “Pigs off campus.” In an attempt to disperse the crowd, a group of seventy National Guard troops advanced on the protesters with fixed bayonets and with their weapons locked and loaded. The guardsmen soon found themselves trapped on an athletic practice field which was fenced on three sides. What happened next left an indelible mark on the history of this country. To tell the story we turn to an excerpt of the documentary Kent State: The Day the War Came Home. It includes interview with students and National Guardsmen who were there.
- Excerpt of documentary, Kent State: The Day the War Came Home produced by Partners in Motion and Single Spark Pictures.
AMY GOODMAN: Governor Rhodes held a news conference that day, which many say served only to provoke and increase the existing tension.
GOV. JAMES RHODES: We are seeing here at the city of Kent, especially, probably the most vicious form of campus-oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups. They make definite plans of burning, destroying and throwing rocks at police and at the National Guard and the Highway Patrol. This is when we’re going to use every part of the law enforcement agency of Ohio to drive them out of Kent. We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms.
And these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the Brown Shirts in the communist element and also the Night Riders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. And I want to say that they’re not going to take over a campus.
REPORTER: How long do you expect to keep the Guard at Kent?
GOV. JAMES RHODES: I’ll answer that: Until we get rid of them.
AMY GOODMAN: Ohio Governor James Rhodes, speaking on May 3, 1970. The next day, May 4, the protest scheduled to be held at noon on the university commons. An estimated 3,000 people gathered for the rally. The National Guard ordered the crowd to disperse and began to fire tear-gas. Students responded by some throwing rocks, chanting, “Pigs off campus.” In an attempt to disperse the crowd, a group of 70 National Guard troops advanced on the protesters with fixed bayonets and with their weapons locked and loaded. The guardsmen soon found themselves trapped on an athletic practice field, which was fenced on three sides. What happened next left an indelible mark on the history of this country. To tell the story, we turn to an excerpt of the documentary, Kent State: The Day the War Came Home. It includes interviews with students, with National Guard. This begins with the former Kent State student, Joe Lewis.
JOE LEWIS: Suddenly and without any warning, several of them in the lead wheeled and leveled their rifles back towards my direction. I took it to be a threatening gesture. And so, being eighteen and foolish, I gestured back at them by raising the middle finger of my right hand.
PROTESTER: And at this point it’s like a film playing in slow motion for me.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: I heard the word “fire.” I believe that that was a situation of, “Hold your fire, do not fire.”
SECOND GUARDSMAN: At that point, the Guardsman on my right fired his weapon.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: Within, again, milliseconds of that single report, the volley itself began.
PROTESTER: I started screaming, “They’re shooting their guns! They’re shooting their guns!”
MARY VECCHIO: It hit us all, I’m sure, at that moment. They’re trying to kill us.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: I had a person targeted. I pulled the slack out of the trigger —
SECOND GUARDSMAN: I assumed that we were firing warning shots, and I fired my weapon in the air.
JOHN CLEARY: I jumped on the ground, praying I wouldn’t get hit.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: Hundreds of people were falling on the ground. And I believe that many of them were being hit.
ALAN CANFORA: There was one tree near me, which was right in the line of fire, and as I got behind the tree at the last second, before my arm reached the safety of the tree, that’s when I was hit.
JOHN CLEARY: The next thing I know, I got hit just below the shoulder blade in the back on the left side.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: That person that I had targeted was standing in front of me yelling, “Shoot me, mother [bleep], shoot me!”
SECOND GUARDSMAN: Everybody else is running away, and there’s this one male coming towards us. His right hand was in the upward position giving an obscene gesture, and his left hand was somewhat behind his back.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: My mind was racing. My mind was telling me that this is wrong, that this is not right.
JOE LEWIS: I was giving an obscene gesture for the first time that day, but I wasn’t screaming, and I wasn’t moving.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: This is not right. This is not right. This is not right.
SECOND GUARDSMAN: At that point, I felt that I was in jeopardy, and I fired on the individual, and he dropped.
JOE LEWIS: And I believe someone said that they heard me say, “Oh, my god, they shot me!”
SECOND GUARDSMAN: The next thing that I remember was there was an order from the rear of where we were, someone yelling to cease fire, which it stopped immediately.
NARRATOR: The shooting lasts a total of thirteen seconds. A total of sixty-seven bullets are fired. One of those bullets has passed through the wrist of Alan Canfora.
ALAN CANFORA: It was kind of an eerie calm, just for a split second. We waited to hear if there were any more bullets that were going to be fired, and there were none. And then, all you could hear in the air after that was screaming, crying, people shouting for ambulances.
PROTESTER: Stay back! Stay back!
SECOND GUARDSMAN: And we were told to return to the commons area, and that’s when we went back down the hill and back across the commons to where we originally started at our staging point.
FIRST GUARDSMAN: We had no clue as to how many people were hurt. Our fear was that it was awful.
NARRATOR: Dean Kahler lays face down on the practice field. A bullet has passed through his spine, paralyzing him for life.
JOHN CLEARY: That’s one thing I’ll never forget about that day, just seeing the looks on the faces of the students who were standing over me, not knowing that there was twelve other people out there shot, four of them bleeding profusely, lying dying on the ground.
NARRATOR: Joe Lewis lays bleeding with two bullet wounds, one through his abdomen and one through his left leg.
JOE LEWIS: I thought to myself, “Well, this could be it.” And I was afraid that I was going to die, and so I made an act of contrition, to say that I was sorry for my sins, and —
MARY VECCHIO: And I saw a girl being carried into the yard at Prentice Hall, and I ran over there with this rag thinking I could help someone, and I looked down, and it was Sandy. Sandy was a friend, and she was so blue and gray. She had been shot in the jugular vein, and I didn’t even recognize her.
ALAN CANFORA: And she was killed within seconds as she walked to her class, 400 feet away from the triggermen.
PROTESTER: I remember the first person I saw was Jeffrey Miller, and he was lying very still.
NARRATOR: One of the first to reach Jeff Miller’s body is fourteen-year-old runaway Mary Vecchio, who only a short time earlier had been protesting with him on the commons.
MARY VECCHIO: I thought it was Alan. I mean, I’ll never forget running toward the body of Jeff Miller, thinking it was Alan, and how I felt when I looked down and saw Jeff lying in this pool of blood. And there was so much blood.
PROTESTER: And we walked over toward another cluster of people, and they were standing around Bill Schroeder.
ALAN CANFORA: Bill Schroeder was an ROTC military science student. He was the all-American boy. He was not a protester, not a radical, not part of the demonstration. He was just there watching.
BARRY LEVINE: She [Allison Krause] said, “Barry, I’m hit.” And I had no idea what that meant at the time. I mean, in split seconds, I knew, but I didn’t know. And “It couldn’t be. It’s impossible. What do you mean you’re hit?” As I went to stroke her cheek, I saw a smudge of blood on her cheek. And it had come from my hand, which was underneath her. So I realized at that point she had been shot in the back and she was bleeding. And as it turns out, she was dying.
NARRATOR: In the moments after the shootings, faculty marshals are told by General Canterbury that the commons must be cleared within fifteen minutes, or he will send the Guard out again.
PROTESTER: We were sitting sort of in rows on this little slope and Glen Frank was in front of us, pacing back and forth. And he was crying, and he was talking very passionately.
GLEN FRANK: I don’t care whether you have never listened to anyone before in your lives, I am begging you right now, if you don’t disperse right now, they’re going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter. Would you please listen to me. Jesus Christ, I don’t want to be a part of this!
PROTESTER: Finally the sense that something — that this terrible thing had — that had happened to these other people could happen to us finally got through.
NARRATOR: Students slowly begin to disperse. The commons are eventually cleared and the wounded rushed to the hospital. County Prosecutor Ronald Kane orders the campus closed and evacuated as news of the shooting finds its way to the students’ families.
ELAINE HOLSTEIN (JEFF MILLER’S MOTHER): I got into my apartment and I thought, “I better call Jeff and tell him to get out of there. He doesn’t have to hang around during all that trauma.”
DORIS KRAUSE (ALLISON KRAUSE’S MOTHER): So I called to try to get through to Ravenna Hospital. And I couldn’t. I finally got a hold of a telephone operator, and she got me through, and I identified myself . I said, “I’m Mrs. Krause, and I want to know how my daughter is. I want to talk to the administrator.”
ELAINE HOLSTEIN: I called his number, and it rang and rang. And then a young man answered. And I said, “Let me speak to Jeff.” And he said, “Who is this?” And I said, “It’s his mother.” And he said, “He’s dead.”
DORIS KRAUSE: He came on the phone, and he said, “Oh, she was DOA.” And that’s how I found out my daughter was gone.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the documentary Kent State: The Day the War Came Home, directed by Chris Triffo, produced by Ron Goetz, won a 2001 Emmy Award. Ten days later, on May 14, 1970, two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi were shot dead. Police fired hundreds of shots, killing 21-year-old Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and a high school student named James Earl Green. 12 other Jackson State students were struck by gunfire. Today, at Kent State University is the 35th anniversary commemoration. The theme of this year’s event, “Tell Me, Father, Did They Aim?”