AP Images/Douglas Moore for educational use only. A group gathers around an injured person after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on demonstrators at Kent State University.

AP Images/Douglas Moore for educational use only. A group gathers around an injured person after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on demonstrators at Kent State University.

 

By Adrian Hernandez

Akron Beacon Journal, May 4, 1970
The New York Times, May 4, 1970, Page 1
www.kentstate1970.org

On May 4, 1970, four students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio were shot and killed by National Guard troops. The incident occurred after three days of student protests against the Vietnam War.

Late Friday, May 1, a group of people broke windows and vandalized storefronts in town. The protest group was large enough that the local police needed assistance, and on May 2, the National Guard was called in. The situation continued to escalate, and the campus ROTC building was burned. Law enforcement used tear gas to disperse the crowd, which had grown even larger than the night before. A curfew was enacted on May 3, but some defiant protestors were tear gassed again. On May 4, the students held a large protest at noon, where the shootings occurred.

Local media coverage

Both local and national media were already covering the student protests, and they covered the Kent State shootings. It was a big story because of the nature of the demonstrations, and the end result. On May 4, The Akron Beacon Journal lead read: “Four persons were killed and at least 11 others shot as National Guardsmen fired into a group of rock throwing protestors at Kent State University today.”

The shooting reportedly occurred after the Guard attempted to disperse a crowd of about 500 gathered on the campus commons. Protestors refused to disperse, and the troops, “wearing gas masks, began to launch tear gas.” The Journal report said that protestors threw objects at officers and that “obscenities filled the air.” The report briefly mentions the Highway Patrol looking for a sniper atop a building near the commons. According to the Journal article, a witness said the shots rang out after a student hurled a rock at the National Guard troops attempting to clear the commons. “According to the witness, some of the Guardsmen were firing in the air while others fired straight ahead.” The wounded – at least one shot in the leg, and two shot in the abdomen – were taken to Robinson Memorial Hospital.

AP Images/Uncredited for educational use only. Ohio National Guard armed with tear gas and rifles move in on students at Kent State University, May 4, 1970.

AP Images/Uncredited for educational use only. Ohio National Guard armed with tear gas and rifles move in on students at Kent State University, May 4, 1970.

National coverage

The New York Times coverage of the shooting is similar to the Akron coverage, but some details differ. The Times reports the crowd gathered on the commons as being “about 1,000 people.” Frederick P. Wenger, of the Ohio National Guard, said the troops opened fire after they were fired upon by a sniper. Interestingly, the Times journalist, John Kifner, put himself in the story in regard to this assertion: “This reporter, who was with the group of students, did not see any indication of sniper fire, nor was the sound of any gunfire audible before the Guard volley.” Students did admit that rocks were thrown, but those interviewed denied there was a sniper.

The Times report also included names of the deceased, and other details not included in the Akron Beacon Journal. Kifner’s account of the shooting includes these paragraphs:

“The crackle of the rifle volley cut the suddenly still air. It appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer.

Some of the students dived to the ground, crawling on the grass in terror. Others stood shocked or half crouched, apparently believing the troops were firing into the air. Some of the rifle barrels were pointed upward.”

Additional media

In researching this topic I also found interesting audio of a press conference by then-governor James Rhodes [Ohio] on May 3, one day before the shootings. He calls the situation “the most vicious form of campus-oriented violence perpetrated by dissident groups.” He goes on to describe the Kent State protesters as “the worst type of people… in America” and “we are going to eradicate the problem.”

 

Adrian Hernandez is a senior at Texas State University. He was interested in the Kent State shootings after seeing comparisons of police response to protest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of Michael Brown. He can be contacted at adrian.hernandez1@gmail.com.

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