HP078: Kent State Shootings

HP078: Kent State Shootings
Kent State Shooting

Much to discuss about the podcast and its wonderful listeners after this history, so stay tuned for that

Kent State

What you hear now in the background the Kent State Fight Song. And if I figured it out and you have a color ipod capable of displaying an image for this podcast you should see that famous picture of the shootings aftermath, more on the later in the show.

Located in the in northeastern Ohio

city Kent

a city of some 30,000

rests on the banks of the Cuyahoga River

11 miles east of Akron, 33 miles southeast of Cleveland

May 4, 1970

Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students

triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close

The shootings have come to symbolize the deep political and social divisions that sharply divided the nation during the Vietnam War


Nixon was elected president of the United States in 1968 based in part on his promise to bring an end to the war in Vietnam.

During the first year of Nixon’s presidency, America’s involvement in the war appeared to be winding down.

In late April of 1970, however, the United States invaded Cambodia and widened the Vietnam War.

This decision was announced on national television and radio on April 30, l970 by President Nixon, who stated that the invasion of Cambodia was designed to attack the headquarters of the Viet Cong, which had been using Cambodian territory as a sanctuary.

Protests occurred the next day, Friday, May 1, across United States college campuses where anti-war sentiment ran high.

At Kent State University, an anti-war rally was held at noon on the Commons, a large, grassy area in the middle of campus which had traditionally been the site for various types of rallies and demonstrations.

Fiery speeches against the war and the Nixon administration were given, a copy of the Constitution was buried to symbolize the murder of the Constitution because Congress had never declared war, and another rally was called for noon on Monday, May 4.

Friday evening in downtown Kent began peacefully with the usual socializing in the bars, but events quickly escalated into a violent confrontation between protesters and local police.

The exact causes of the disturbance are still the subject of debate,

but bonfires were built in the streets of downtown Kent, cars were stopped, police cars were hit with bottles, and some store windows were broken.

Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency

Bars were closed – increased size of angry crowd

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd from downtown,

Crowd moved back to the campus.

Fearing further disturbances Mayor Satrom asked Governor Rhodes to send the Ohio National Guard, which he did at 5pm.

There had been threats made to downtown businesses and city officials as well as rumors that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and the university.


Members of the Ohio National Guard were already on duty in Northeast Ohio, so they quickly to move to Kent.

They arrived at 10 p.m., and encountered a riotous scene.

The wooden ROTC building adjacent to the Commons was on fire and would eventually burn to the ground

There is still controversy regarding who set fire to the ROTC building

Assumed protestors responsible

Interfered with firemen extinguishing the fire

Cheered the burning

Confrontations between Guardsmen and demonstrators continued well into the night

tear gas filled the campus

numerous arrests were made

Sunday, May 3rd

Nearly 1000 Ohio National Guardsmen occupied the campus

The day was warm and sunny, however, and students frequently talked amicably with Guardsmen.

Ohio Governor James Rhodes flew to Kent on Sunday morning

At a press conference, he said, campus protesters the worst type of people in America and every force of law will be used to deal with them.

Rhodes also indicated that he would seek a court order declaring a state of emergency

Never happened

National Guard and University officials assumed it was being declared

All rallies were banned when the Guard acted on its assumption and took control from the University officials

Further confrontations between protesters and guardsmen occurred Sunday evening

Rocks and tear gas thrown and arrests took place on campus

On Friday, May 1, student protest leaders called for another rally to be held on the Commons at noon on Monday, May 4.

Although University officials warned against it a crowd began to gathering beginning as early as 11 a.m.

By noon, the Commons area contained 3,000 people

Although estimates are inexact,

about 500 core demonstrators , Victory Bell at one end of the Commons

another 1,000 people were supporting the active demonstrators

and an additional 1,500 people were spectators standing around the perimeter of the Commons

Across the Commons at the burned-out ROTC building stood about 100 Ohio National Guardsmen carrying lethal M-1 military rifles.

Little evidence exists as to who were the leaders of the rally and what activities were planned, but initially the rally was peaceful.


1975 federal civil trial, General Robert Canterbury, the highest official of the Guard, testified that widespread consensus existed that the rally should be prohibited because of the tensions that existed and the possibility that violence would again occur.

Kent State President Robert White had explicitly told Canterbury that any demonstration would be highly dangerous.

In contrast, White testified that he could recall no conversation with Canterbury regarding banning the rally.

The decision to ban the rally can most accurately be traced to Governor Rhodes’ statements on Sunday,

May 3 when he stated that he would be seeking a state of emergency declaration from the courts.

Although he never did this, all officials — Guard, University, Kent — assumed that the Guard was now in charge of the campus and that all rallies were illegal.

Thus, University leaders printed and distributed on Monday morning 12,000 leaflets indicating that all rallies, including the May 4th rally scheduled for noon, were prohibited as long as the Guard was in control of the campus.


Shortly before noon, General Canterbury made the decision to order the demonstrators to disperse.

A Kent State police officer made an announcement using a bullhorn.

When this had no effect, the officer and several Guardsmen drove across the Commons to tell the protesters that the rally was banned and that they must disperse.

This was met with angry shouting and rocks, and the jeep retreated.

Canterbury ordered his men to lock and load their weapons

tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd around the Victory Bell

the Guard began to march across the Commons to disperse the rally

The protesters moved up a steep hill, known as Blanket Hill, and then down the other side of the hill onto the Prentice Hall parking lot as well as an adjoining practice football field.

Most of the Guardsmen followed the students directly and soon found themselves somewhat trapped on the practice football field because it was surrounded by a fence.

Yelling and rock throwing reached a peak as the Guard remained on the field for about ten minutes.

The Guardsmen huddling together knelt and pointed their guns, but no weapons were shot at this time

The Guard then began to return up Blanket Hill.

At the top of the hill, 28 of the more than 70 Guardsmen turned and fired their rifles and pistols. Many fired into the air or the ground. However, a small portion fired directly into the crowd. There were between 61 and 67 shots fired in a 13 second period.


Four Kent State students died as a result of the firing by the Guard.

Jeffrey Miller

The closest student at 270 feet from the Guard

standing in an access road leading into the Prentice Hall parking lot

shot in the mouth

Allison Krause

Prentice Hall parking lot

330 feet from the Guardsmen

shot in the left side of her body

William Schroeder

Prentice Hall parking lot

390 feet from the Guard

left side of his back

Sandra Scheuer

Prentice Hall parking lot

390 feet from the Guard

bullet pierced the left front side of her neck

9 Kent State students were wounded in the 13 seconds of fire. Most of the students were in the Prentice Hall parking lot. A few were on the Blanket Hill area


Joseph Lewis

closest about 60 feet

middle finger extended

bullets struck him in the right abdomen and left lower leg

Thomas Grace

60 feet

was wounded in the left ankle

John Cleary

100 feet

upper left chest

Alan Canfora

225 feet

right wrist.

Dean Kahler

most seriously wounded of the nine students

small of his back

300 feet and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

Douglas Wrentmore

330 feet.

right knee

James Russell

375 feet

right thigh and right forehead

Robert Stamps

500 feet

right buttock

Donald Mackenzie

farthest, 750 feet



(1)the Guardsmen fired in self-defense, and the shootings were therefore justified

(2)the Guardsmen were not in immediate danger, and therefore the shootings were unjustified.


fear of their lives.

numerous investigating commissions, federal court

had to fire in self-defense.

federal criminal and civil trials have accepted the position of the Guardsmen

1974 federal criminal trial

District Judge Frank Battisti dismissed the case

against eight Guardsmen indicted by a federal grand jury

ruling at mid-trial that the government’s case against the Guardsmen was so weak

that the defense did not have to present its case

1975 (much longer and more complex) federal civil trial

a jury voted 9-3 that none of the Guardsmen were legally responsible for the shootings

This decision was appealed,

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a new trial had to be held because of the improper handling of a threat to a jury member.

January of 1979 with an out-of-court settlement

a statement signed by 28 defendants

$675,000 to the wounded students and the parents of the students who had been killed.

money was paid by the State of Ohio rather than by any Guardsmen

the amount equaled what the State estimated it would cost to go to trial again.

the statement signed by members of the Ohio National Guard was viewed by them to be a declaration of regret, not an apology or an admission of wrongdoing:

In retrospect, the tragedy of May 4, 1970 should not have occurred. The students may have believed that they were right in continuing their mass protest in response to the Cambodian invasion, even though this protest followed the posting and reading by the university of an order to ban rallies and an order to disperse. These orders have since been determined by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to have been lawful.

Some of the Guardsmen on Blanket Hill, fearful and anxious from prior events, may have believed in their own minds that their lives were in danger. Hindsight suggests that another method would have resolved the confrontation. Better ways must be found to deal with such a confrontation.

We devoutly wish that a means had been found to avoid the May 4th events culminating in the Guard shootings and the irreversible deaths and injuries. We deeply regret those events and are profoundly saddened by the deaths of four students and the wounding of nine others which resulted. We hope that the agreement to end the litigation will help to assuage the tragic memories regarding that sad day.

numerous other studies of the shootings

primary responsibility for the shootings lies with the Guardsmen

Experts who find the Guard primarily responsible find themselves in agreement with the conclusion of the

Scranton Commission Report

1970, p. 87

“The indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”


Faculty marshals convinced the students (willing to risk their lives trying to kill the Guardsmen) to leave the Commons.

Ambulances arrived and took those not already dead to hospitals for treatment.

The University was ordered closed immediately

first by President Robert White

and then indefinitely by Portage County Prosecutor Ronald Kane under an injunction from Common Pleas Judge Albert Caris.

Classes did not resume until the Summer of 1970

faculty members engaged in a wide variety of activities through the mail and off-campus meetings that enabled Kent State students to finish the semester.


A photograph of Mary Vecchio, a fourteen year old runaway

screaming over the body of Jeffery Miller appeared on the front pages of newspapers and magazines throughout the country

the photographer, John Filo, was to win a Pulitzer Prize for the picture.

The Mary Vecchio picture shows her on one knee screaming over Jeffrey Miller’s body.

Miller is lying on the tarmac of the Prentice Hall parking lot.

One student is standing near the Miller body closer than Vecchio.

Four students are seen in the immediate background.

John Filo, a Kent State photography major in 1970

continues to works as a professional newspaper photographer and editor.

He was near the Prentice Hall parking lot when the Guard fired.

He saw bullets hitting the ground, but he did not take cover because he thought the bullets were blanks. Of course, blanks cannot hit the ground.

Well that is all for the history portion of todays show. I hope you all enjoyed learning about the 1970 Kent State Shooting. I would like to thank David from Irvine for suggesting this episode. 

Please stay tuned at the end of the show to hear a promo from one of my favorite podcast The Unreal OC. Also, I have received many emails from listeners these past few weeks and I would like to thank all of you especially, Becky and Christian who submitted intros for the podcast and won a book each. I promise to mail your books soon.

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Coming up on the podcast you will be hearing a great program on Nauropathy medicine by Listener Brett. Also, coming up I was lucky enough to run into Matt Ditillo from Matt’s today in history and Bob Wright from Baseball History Podcast. We all got together on the show room floor and recorded for an hour. That special episode will be coming out soon as well.

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