On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard attempting to disperse a crowd of student demonstrators at Kent State University opened fire, killing four students and injuring nine others.
More than any other event, the shootings in Kent State would become the focal point of the bitter divisions in progress between the Americans during the Vietnam War. The deadly explosion marked the culmination of several days of clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators, which began after President Richard M. Nixon announced on a television show that he had authorized the troops to invade Cambodia.
Nixon’s decision, which extended the Vietnam War to a time when the United States was in the The troop withdrawal process immediately sparked anti-war protests in colleges across the country, including Kent State.
Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia triggers protests
May 1, 1970
Around noon the day after Nixon’s speech, some 500 students and teachers from Kent State gathered on the Commons, a large grassy area in the middle of the campus. They bury a copy of the Constitution to symbolize Nixon’s “murder” of constitutional principles by invading Cambodia without declaring war or consulting Congress. A second rally this afternoon also ends peacefully.
This Friday evening, a crowd of drunken protesters is forming in the center of Kent and begins to taunt the local police and break some shop windows. All of the city’s police are mobilizing, forcing the protesters to return to campus after the mayor of Ohio, LeRoy Satrom, declared a state of emergency. Things finally calmed down at 2:30 a.m.
National Guard arrives in Kent State
Worried about the unrest, Satrom asked the governor, James Rhodes, to mobilize the Ohio National Guard. When the guards start arriving on Kent State campus that evening, they discover that the building of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) has been burned down. A crowd of about 1,000 people surrounded the building, many of them cheering and confronting the firefighters to prevent them from putting out the fire. Using tear gas and bayonets, the National Guards leave the campus at midnight, ordering the students to return to their dorms.
WATCH: Kent State Filming
On Sunday, more than 1,000 national guards arrived on campus. Governor Rhodes flew to Kent that morning and held a press conference calling the protesters “the worst type of people we host in America”. With the support of Rhodes, the administrators of the State of Kent announce that they prohibit a protest rally scheduled for the next day. Other clashes between students and guards broke out that night after protesters gathered in the town near the Victory Bell, which is normally used to celebrate football victories.
Tear gas, flying stones, then the guards open fire
Defying the ban, people begin to assemble in the Commons around 11 a.m. some 3,000 people are present, including a nucleus of some 500 demonstrators around the Victory Bell and many other spectators. The target of their protests goes from Nixon, Cambodia and the Vietnam War, to the National Guard and its occupation of the state of Kent.
After the demonstrators refused to disperse, a hundred national guards began to cross the Communes. They push the crowd down a slope known as Blanket Hill and descend to the other side into a parking lot.
After the crowd in a nearby training soccer field, the guards find themselves blocked by a fence. They throw cartridges of tear gas and point their weapons at the demonstrators, who shout at them and throw stones and other debris at them. After about 10 minutes of this, the guards begin to ascend Blanket Hill. The crowd cheers for their retirement and keeps throwing things at them.
At 12:24 p.m., just after reaching the top of the hill, the guards turned around and fired their M1 rifles and pistols, some aimed directly at the crowd. In 13 seconds of shooting, they fire between 61 and 67 shots. Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheur were killed and nine other students were injured, including Dean Kahler, who was shot in the back and left permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
In the aftermath of the shootings, the marshals of Kent State College persuaded the angry crowd to leave the Commons and avoid further confrontation with the nervous guards. The administration immediately closes the campus and it remains closed for the rest of the spring semester. Meanwhile, the anger at the shots triggers a nationwide student strike that has closed hundreds of high schools, colleges and universities.
National guards sign declaration of regret
Even decades later, it is unclear why the guards opened fire on the crowd of students from Kent State on May 4, 1970. In Federal Court inquiries and testimony, many they testify that they feared for their lives and that they were acting in self-defense.
LISTEN: Nixon Responds to Kent State Filming
Many people wonder if the crowd posed such a serious threat, but the verdicts of the criminal and civil trials accept the Guard’s position. In January 1979, a civil settlement was reached whereby the Ohio National Guard paid the wounded a total of $ 675,000.
As part of the settlement, 28 guards signed a statement expressing regret – but not apology – for the way things had worked on May 4, 1970.
“Some of the Blanket Hill guards, frightened and anxious about previous events, may have believed in their own minds that their lives were in danger,” the statement said. “Looking back suggests that another method would have resolved the confrontation.”