Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"They Just Started Shooting Us Down" -- Kent State

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"They Just Started Shooting Us Down" -- Kent State

At 12:24 PM on Monday, May 4, 1970, twenty-eight Ohio National Guardsmen pivoted 135 degrees and began shooting into a crowd of student protesters at Kent State University. By the time the shooting ended thirteen seconds later, the guardsmen had fired sixty-seven rounds and four students lay dead or dying with at least another nine having been shot. How did this confrontation happen? And what caused the Guard to open fire? 36 years later, many of the answers are still unclear.

In Part I of this series, we looked at Nixon's curiously timed announcement of the Cambodian invasion and the May Day rally at Yale University. Part II examined the events of that weekend at Kent. This, Part III, explores the events of May 4. The final diary in the series will focus on the legal aftermath.

In memory of Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer, join me in exploring the events of May 4.

Most of the links in this diary are photos, so if you want to see what was happening, click a link!

(This map will also help to keep you oriented. The arrows indicate the route the Guard took on campus that day. The spray of lighter lines indicates the direction of the shots.)

Monday, May 4, 1970 dawned sunny and deceptively calm. Anger over the invasion of Cambodia had faded into the background. That Monday, Kent State students were angry at what they saw as the occupation of their campus back by the National Guard. They wanted their campus back. Many attended the noon rally, announced the previous Friday, hoping to get some answers. They wanted to find out what was going on and when the Guard would leave. At least one professor encouraged his students to go to the rally for this reason. Other students, crossing the Commons between classes, got caught up in events. Although officials later asserted that all gatherings had been banned, classes were scheduled as usual, although a few got cancelled due to fake bomb scares.

By noon, about two thousand students had gathered on the Commons. Some 80-90% of them were spectators. The Scranton Commission, later convened by Nixon to investigate campus disturbances nationwide, determined the Kent State protest began as a peaceful gathering.

Facing students from the charred remains of the ROTC building were Companies A and C of the 145th Infantry and Troop G of the 107th Armored Cavalry, under the command of Major Harry Jones and General Robert Canterbury. Canterbury, who had been meeting with KSU and Kent city officials, arrived too late to don his uniform. At that meeting, Canterbury said later that a decision had been reached to ban the noon rally. No one, however, would later admit having made this decision which the Scranton Commission called “a serious error.” Nonetheless, at 11:50 AM, KSU policeman Harold Rice ordered the crowd to disperse. With that announcement, this peaceful rally did become illegal. However, since few students heard the announcement, Gen. Canterbury ordered Rice to take a jeep into the crowd and repeat it. Meanwhile, the guardsmen were ordered to lock and load their weapons.

The crowd reacted angrily to what they considered an unnecessary suspension of their first amendment right to assemble. Demonstrators began chanting: “Pigs off campus” and “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war.” Students pelted Rice’s jeep with rocks. As the hostility increased, Major Jones walked out across the field and pulled Rice back. The Guard then began firing tear gas and, soon thereafter, the skirmish line marched out. When someone pleaded with Canterbury not to advance his units, the general replied, “These students are going to have to find out what law and order is all about.”

Tear gas sent the students running but brisk winds blew much of it back at the troops. As the crowd moved off the Commons, some demonstrators hurled rocks and spent tear gas canisters. Pursued by Company A and Troop G, most students retreated over Blanket Hill. At the crest of the hill, they passed an umbrella-like structure known as the Pagoda. When Allison Krause reached the Pagoda, she paused, turned and yelled an obscenity. (Krause is to the immediate right of the structure in this photo. She is holding hands with her boyfriend.) Her father would always believe that, at that moment, she sealed her fate. After crossing the hill, many students gathered on the veranda of Taylor Hall which housed the school of journalism. Another group continued down the hill to the Prentice Hall parking lot.

General Canterbury later said his mission had been simply to clear the Commons but, when he reached the top of Blanket Hill, he decided to push the demonstrators beyond a practice field some eighty yards below the crest of the hill. Therefore, after cresting the hill, he ordered his troops down the slope of the hill and onto the practice field.

The Scranton Commission later called Canterbury’s decision to abandon his commanding position on Blanket Hill “highly questionable.” The practice field where the troops came to rest was bounded by a six-foot-high fence on its north and east sides. Its south end sloped down to another part of campus. To the west, from which the troops had come, the students quickly reformed. In effect, the guardsmen were now boxed in by fences, topography and students.

About fifty students gathered in the parking lot, closest to the guardsmen, now markedly increased their harassment. Alan Canfora waved a black flag. Jeffrey Miller hurled a spent tear gas canister. Dean Kahler threw a stone. Some guardsmen also threw rocks and spent canisters.

Then, suddenly, members of Troop G knelt and aimed their rifles at the students in the parking lot. Although they did open fire at this point, a subsequent Justice Department investigation determined that “one person, however, probably an officer, at this point did fire a pistol in the air. No guardsman admits firing this shot.” The day after the shootings, a spent .22-caliber casing was found near the edge of the field. Since only Major Jones carried such a weapon, this casing likely came from his gun although he never admitted firing a shot.

Ten tense minutes passed while the guardsmen held their untenable position on the practice field. Officers finally huddled and then ordered their troops to retreat. According to General Canterbury, who denied that he ever took control of the troops that day, the withdrawal was ordered “to make it clear beyond any doubt to the mob that our posture was now defensive and that we were returning to the Commons, thus reducing the possibility of injury to either soldiers or students.” As the guard marched up the hill, they continued to watch the students in the parking lot.

Some demonstrators increased their harassment during the retreat. A few advanced boldly, then retreated. Throughout, however, few students got within 50 feet of the guardsmen. Some threw rocks but almost all of those fell short. One photo taken seconds before the shooting erupted shows that many of the students closest to the guard line were carrying books. (Remember, classes were still going on.)

As the soldiers crested the hill, their forward path remained unimpeded. But, at 12:24 PM, as they crested Blanket Hill, members of Troop G suddenly wheeled 135 degrees, rushed a few feet back to the crest of the hill, and opened fire. The shooting lasted an interminable thirteen seconds and, when it was over, at least 13 students had been shot.

At first, many students thought the guardsmen were firing blanks. But the sights and sounds around them quickly convinced them otherwise. When people saw the river of blood flowing from Jeff Miller's head, reality hit home. The closest fatality, Jeff was standing 265 feet from the guardsmen when a bullet slammed into his mouth and killed him instantly.

The other casualties included: Joseph Lewis, Jr., standing some 60 to 70 feet away, was shot in the abdomen and lower leg. Joe would admit later that he had been giving the guardsmen the finger when they shot him. As he lay wounded, the second shot him in the leg. John Cleary, 110 feet away, was shot in the chest. 200 feet away, Tom Grace, suffered a shot to the foot. Alan Canfora, who had taunted the guard with his black flag, was 225 feet away and hiding behind a tree when a shot ripped through his wrist. Dean Kahler was lying prone 300 feet away when he was shot in the back and permanently paralyzed. Kahler, a conscientious objector, had been home that weekend celebrating his birthday. Douglas Wrentmore, 329 feet away, was shot in his knee. Allison Krause, who had taunted the Guard at the Pagoda, was 343 feet away when the shooting broke out. She and her boyfriend, Barry, hid behind a car. After the shooting ended, Barry thought everything was OK until Allison whispered, "I'm hit." The bullet had entered her armpit and ripped through most of her major organs. She died en route to the hospital. Jim Russell was ninety degrees removed from the others but still 375 feet away when he was slightly wounded in the thigh and forehead by buckshot. William Schroeder, who was attending Kent on a ROTC scholarship, was shot in the lower back when he was 382 feet away. The bullet exited his shoulder. Bill survived the trip to the hospital but died as he was being wheeled into an operating room. Sandra Scheuer, walking to her next class, was 390 feet from the guard when a bullet severed her jugular vein. She bled to death in the parking lot. Robbie Stamps, about 500 feet away, was shot in the right buttock. Donald Scott MacKenzie was 730 feet away when a bullet struck him in the neck and exited his cheek. MacKenzie would almost certainly have been killed had the bullet that hit him not been deflected prior to the strike. (Some believe MacKenzie was struck by the bullet that passed through Sandy Scheuer's neck.)

Immediately after the shootings ended, an eerie silence fell over the scene. Then, as the guard turned on their heels and began marching back to the Commons, students began screaming and trying, to the best of their ability, to protect and treat the wounded. Ambulances soon arrived to carry off the dead and wounded while the students regathered on the Commons and the Guardsmen threatened to march out again. Finally, Professor Glenn Frank tearfully appealed to the students to listen to him, "even if you've never listened to anyone in your whole lives." Please disperse, Frank pleaded, because otherwise there would be another massacre. Few who heard Frank's appeal would ever forget it. Slowly, in confusion, the kids left the Commons and shortly thereafter, the campus was closed for the semester. Within hours, most Kent State students had left town, catching rides out of town however they could.


Why did the guardsmen fire? Almost every student later interviewed said the soldiers had no reason to shoot. Some guardsmen claimed they fired out of fear for their lives. Sergeant Lloyd Thomas, stating his belief that “there was a real possibility that I could be injured,” said he fired “strictly to issue a scare tactic, you know, like showing power with a big noise.” Staff Sergeant Barry Morris said the students “were bent on overtaking us. I was scared to death.” Specialist Fourth Class Ralph Zoller agreed: “I thought they were going to overtake us.”

Sergeant Shafer, the only guardsman to admit firing intentionally at a specific individual, fired once into the air before he saw Joe Lewis with one hand behind his back and the other gesturing obscenely. “I felt – not knowing if this person was going to inflict harm on us or myself – I had to use what abilities I had to stop this person. I fired at him.” Says Lewis: “I was standing still, giving the finger. I was eighteen and arrogant and foolish and I was shot.” All of the photos taken immediately before the shooting prove there was no rush of students bearing down on the guardsmen.

Some speculate that a small group of guardsmen conspired to open fire because they were “fed up” with the demonstrators’ rock-throwing and taunts. Another possible explanation – that an order to fire was given – has consistently been denied by Guard officers. No evidence exists to refute this nor does any evidence support the idea that the guardsmen fired out of panic. Considering the simultaneous whirling around of the guardsmen just as the firing started, had they reacted in panic, it's likely that at least some guardsmen would also have been struck. Nonetheless, it is almost certain that some guardsmen did fire after hearing the initial volley in the belief that an order must have been given.

At least six guardsmen later told the FBI “that the lives of the members of the Guard were not in danger and it was not a shooting situation.” Nevertheless, General Canterbury defended the firing as self-defense: “Guardsmen on the right flank were in serious danger of bodily harm and death as the mob continued to charge. I felt that, in view of the extreme danger to the troops at this point, that they were justified in firing.”

Photographs refute this argument. Although Troop G, responsible for most of the gunfire, was guarding the right flank, they ignored the largest group of student on that side – those in front of Taylor Hall. Instead, they fired on the much smaller, more vocal, and more distant students in the Prentice Hall parking lot. The most compelling evidence to refute the claim of self-defense is the distances at which the victims fell.

The Photographer With A Gun

Another theory advanced immediately after the shootings claimed the guardsmen fired in response to a sniper. This was the rationale offered Monday night by Adjutant General Sylvester Del Corso. Staff Sergeant Barry Morris claimed he heard a shot from behind: “It was not a clear loud crack like it would have been if it had been fired out in the open.” Sergeant Shafer, the only guardsman to admit firing intentionally at a specific individual, initially agreed: “We got over the crest of the hill. There was a single shot. It was impossible to hear what was going on.” Although the sniper theory was quickly abandoned and never thoroughly investigated, evidence exists to suggest that someone other than a guardsman may indeed have fired a weapon that day.

After the firing ceased, the Guard marched back to their original position around the burned-out ROTC building. Within minutes, a young man carrying a gun, a camera, and a gas mask ran over the hill, pursued by another person, yelling, “Stop that man. He has a gun. He fired four shots.”

Terry Norman, the youth with the gun, was a 22-year-old occasional student at Kent State and a free-lance photographer whose primary interest seemed to be taking photos of campus demonstrations. Apparently, at various times, he worked for the campus police, the FBI, or both. Before the May 4 demonstration, Sergeant Mike Delaney, press liaison for the Guard, had initially refused to issue Norman a press pass because Norman lacked the proper credentials. A campus liaison offered to vouch for Norman but that didn't sway Delaney. He finally relented only after the campus police intervened, saying that Norman was “under contract to the FBI to take pictures.” When Norman reached the Guard line after the shootings, Delaney heard him exclaim: “I had to shoot! They would have killed me.”

Several students later told the FBI they saw Norman fire his weapon. After stopping at the guard line, Norman was quickly surrounded by the KSU police. KSU policeman Tom Kelly took possession of Norman’s gun, a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. NBC reporter Fred DeBrine saw Kelly make “a movement, which resembled the action taken when opening the cylinder on a revolver” and heard the policeman exclaim, “My God, he fired dour shots! What do we do now?” Later, however, Kelly claimed that Norman's gun was “fully loaded” and “had not been fired.” In any case, the KSU policemen quickly hustled Norman away from the scene.

Curiously, when the FBI received Norman's gun, the cartridges they found in the cylinder came from five different manufacturers, leading many to believe that the gun was quickly reloaded with whatever bullets were handy. The FBI agents also concluded that the gun had been fired since its last cleaning, although they could not say when. Three years later, as the House of Representatives threatened to investigate the Kent State shootings, FBI director Clarence Kelley finally revealed that Terry Norman had indeed been on the FBI payroll. On April 29, 1970 – a mere 5 days before the shootings – he had received “a cash payment of $125 … for information which he voluntarily provided to the FBI concerning activities of the National Socialist White People’s Party.” Norman’s connection to the FBI almost certainly explains why he was never subjected to further scrutiny and why his possible role in the shootings was summarily dismissed by the official investigations. Norman later stated in his only sworn statement about the shootings that he did not fire his weapon that day. After that, he remained beyond the jurisdiction of all investigative bodies. “Terry Norman,” declared the Scranton Commission tersely, “a free-lance photographer, was taking pictures of the demonstration and was seen with a pistol after the Guard fired. Several civilians chased him from Taylor Hall into the Guard line, where he surrendered a .38-caliber revolver. The gun was immediately examined by a campus policeman, who found that it had not been fired.” And, officially, that was the end of it. But, for many, the role of Terry Norman remains one of the bigger mysteries of the Kent State shootings.

Terry Norman was last known to be working for a police department in (where else?) Florida.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Booman Tribune


(This article was reprinted in full with the permission of the author to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the horrible tragedy at Kent State. The following update is from the author at the Daily Kos link.)

UPDATE: Terry Norman is found! (h/t to DU's asthmaticeog) And, an even more remarkable 2006 story about Terry Norman.


Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I never really knew the story behind this. Thanks for posting about it.

Robert Paulsen said...

You're welcome. It's a real tragedy and it's very important that the real history is understood.