Thirty-nine years ago this week, National Guardsmen opened fire on hundreds of unarmed students at an antiwar rally at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and injuring nine. For the massacre’s survivors, the events surrounding the shootings remain unresolved. We speak to Alan Canfora, who was shot during the massacre, and his sister Roseann Canfora, who witnessed the attack. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Thirty-nine years ago this week, National Guardsmen opened fire on hundreds of unarmed students at an antiwar rally at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and injuring nine. The students were protesting the US invasion of Cambodia, which was announced by President Nixon on April 30th. The four students who were shot dead were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer, all between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one. For the survivors of the Kent State massacre, the events of May 4th, 1970 remain unresolved even four decades later.
AMY GOODMAN: Two years ago, one of the survivors of the massacre, Alan Canfora, released enhanced audio recordings from the day of the shootings. By listening closely, a voice in the background can be heard yelling, “Right here! Get set! Point! Fire!” Following the command, the sounds of shots being fired can be heard. The National Guard fired sixty-seven shots in thirteen seconds. The FBI has never determined whether an order to shoot was given.
Well, I caught up with Alan Canfora at the Kent State campus during Democracy Now!’s “Community Voices, Community Media” tour several weeks ago. He was shot in the wrist by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State on May 4th, 1970.
ALAN CANFORA: My name is Alan Canfora. I was a member of the Kent State Students for a Democratic Society in 1968, ’69. Forty years ago, we raised hell on this campus. We planted the seeds of revolt, which blossomed a year later, when four days of protests culminated with the shootings by the National Guard. Only bullets could silence our voices here at Kent State in 1970.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you do?
ALAN CANFORA: Well, we protested vigorously for four days, including turmoil in downtown Kent, where forty-three bank windows were broken on Friday night, May 1st. Saturday night, the ROTC building was burned to the ground. That brought in 1,200 National Guardsmen.
And on Monday, May 4th, they attacked a peaceful gathering of students, about 300 of us gathered on the commons. And they fired teargas. They chased us over a hill, and they marched back up the hill. And at the peak of the hilltop is where there was a verbal command to fire. One guard officer shouted, “Right here! Get set! Point! Fire!” And they fired sixty-seven gunshots down the hill that killed four students, and they wounded nine, including me. I got shot through my right wrist 225 feet away.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what you saw when you were standing there.
ALAN CANFORA: Well, I saw the Guardsmen reach the hilltop, and we expected that they were just retreating. It looked like they were going away, back over the hill where they had come from. But suddenly, at the hilltop, out of seventy-six Guardsmen, only about a dozen from Troop G stopped, turned. They began to fire. They continued to fire for thirteen seconds. The closest student was sixty feet away. He was wounded. Another student ninety feet away was wounded. I was near the bottom of the hill with my roommate. We were both shot and injured. And then, behind us, in a parking lot, is where all of the four students were killed, at distances of between 265 and 400 feet. So it was nothing but a slaughter. They fired into the distant parking lot, because that’s where the most radical and vocal students were gathered.
AMY GOODMAN: And were you shot first?
ALAN CANFORA: I think I was. I think I was the first student shot. I was waving a black flag of protest that day. I carried that black flag as a symbol of my despair and my anger, because only ten days earlier I attended my friend’s funeral. He was killed in Vietnam at age nineteen. So that was very fresh in my memory, and that’s why I joined the protests and I helped lead the protests May 1st through 4th in 1970. And that’s what led to me being shot.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened after you were shot? What did you do?
ALAN CANFORA: Well, I ran away, and I got a ride to the hospital from a student. And when I got to the hospital, that’s when I saw the others that were injured and that were dying. I saw my friend Jeff Miller. Jeff Miller is from Queens, Long Island, New York. His mother still lives there. And I saw him in the back of an ambulance with a bullet that had entered his face, and it blew his brains out the back of his head. He was in that famous picture with the young woman screaming over his dead body. That was my friend Jeff from New York City. I saw him there at the hospital.
And at the hospital, they treated me and others that day. And there was a horrible scene there with four students dying and nine others injured. One guy was in a — he’s paralyzed, in a wheelchair for life. Another guy lost half his stomach. My roommate lost a part of his foot. So those are very serious injuries of those who survived. And I feel fortunate that I was only shot through my right wrist.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like Kent State understands the history today?
ALAN CANFORA: Kent State understands it, yeah. In fact, the university administration here gets it more than ever. But I think it’s important for people to understand the legacy of Kent State, the wrongfulness of the massacre. It was murder. It was intentional. There was an order to fire. I think it’s very clear that the state government and the federal government were involved.
We’re still working on that, revealing the truth about that order to fire, for example. Next week, I’m going to California. The tape recording, which proved the order to fire, is going to be analyzed for a national TV show. So we’re going to try to find out who gave that order, and we’re convinced that the order ultimately would go to the White House. President Nixon had a vendetta against Kent State SDS since 1968, when we went over to Akron and disrupted his speech in October of ’68 at Akron University. And Nixon was very vindictive, and we think that maybe he worked with the governor to give the order to shoot and kill here at Kent State, a working-class school, not a Yale or a Harvard or a Berkeley, where a lot of rich kids went to school.
And so, they decided to shoot students here to try to terrorize or silence the antiwar movement, but it backfired, because it triggered the only national student strike in US history. Over four million students protested from coast to coast during the national student strike of May 1970. Hundreds of universities were shut down. And that was the high point in the history of American student activism. So if Nixon tried to silence the antiwar movement by killing the students here, it backfired entirely, and it triggered the only national student strike in US history.
AMY GOODMAN: Alan Canfora, one of those shot at the Kent State massacre. Two years ago, he released enhanced audio recordings from the day of the shootings. Again, by listening closely, you can hear a voice in the background saying, “Right here! Get set! Point! Fire!” The thirteen seconds of the sixty-seven shots.
I also spoke to Alan’s sister, Roseann “Chic” Canfora. She was nineteen years old. She was an eyewitness to the Kent State massacre. She was in the parking lot. We visited the site of the shootings at Kent State with her, and she described the scene thirty-nine years ago.
ROSEANN CANFORA: The shooting itself took thirteen seconds. The photograph that you’ve probably seen and many of the historic photographs of that day, where Alan was carrying the black flag, he was the student activist who walked closest to the Guard when they were on the field. So there’s a photograph of us in the Davies book where he walks close to them with the black flag, and I could see they were aiming at him. So I said, “This is — you know, they’re aiming their guns. Let’s, you know, get out of here.” And he said, “I want to see where they’re going,” because that’s when they started their ascent.
I went back to the parking lot. Alan stayed, you know, down in that area. And like I said, when the shooting started, thirteen seconds of gunfire. If you look at a watch and you watch a secondhand tick by, you realize what a hideously long time that is for men with gas masks and steel helmets to look through the scopes of their weapons, aim into the crowd in the distance, of unarmed college students, and then to fire for thirteen long seconds.
You asked when I knew my brother had been hit. After the thirteen seconds of gunfire stopped, we came out from behind the cars and trees which shielded us, and I remember, during those thirteen seconds, thinking about all the people that were out there in the open.
Three feet behind me was the body of Bill Schroeder. He was an ROTC student who was against the war. And I could tell that he was dead. He had blood splattered all over his neck, and he had been shot in the back. And I saw someone attending to a young woman in the Prentice parking lot. That dorm you see over there, I mean, like as far away as the last car that you see there, is where Sandy Scheuer was. I saw Bill Schroeder there. I ran over to Sandy. Sandy was a friend of mine. She was so grey, because she’d been shot through the jugular vein over 300 feet away. And it’s that moment when I had seen two students prone, and both of them dead, that I remembered that the last place I saw Alan would have put him directly in the line of fire.
So I started running across the parking lot and toward the body of Jeff Miller, just praying that it wasn’t Alan. And it was just when I came upon Jeff’s body that one of Alan’s friends came up behind me and said Alan and Tom both got hit.
It was — I was nineteen. It was surreal at that moment to see people lying dead. But what was most shocking was not just watching these soldiers, American soldiers, making that ascent and then turning and shooting at us, but once they did that horrific deed, as people lay dying, they turned and walked away, went down that hill and left them there. These armed soldiers that were sent to this campus to protect life and property just took life and walked away.
AMY GOODMAN: Chic Canfora, Alan Canfora’s sister. He was shot. She was an eyewitness to the Kent State massacre. We were standing in the parking lot — it was raining — two weeks ago, as she recalled what happened.