Who was Shot at Kent State?

(Circleville Herald, May 12, 2008)

I held a candle in the early morning hours this past May 4th at the spot Sandy Scheuer died, 130 yards from the crest of Blanket Hill, 130 yards downhill from the Guardsman’s rifle that killed her. Sandy was not a participant in the anti-war rally that Monday, she was an honors student in speech therapy, walking across the Prentice Hall parking lot to class. I did not know Sandy, I was 16 years old when she was killed. I met her parents briefly July 12, 1977 when they, myself, and 192 others were arrested on Blanket Hill protesting the building of a gym on the site of the 1970 shootings.

Holding Sandy’s candle, near others holding candles for Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, I felt we were holding back the darkness, the darkness that entered into the Guard that day, the darkness in Governor Rhodes’ directive to "use every weapon to eradicate the problem", the darkness that led my nation into Vietnam and, 40 years later, into Iraq. The darkness that was Richard Nixon labeled us antiwar dissenters as "bums" and "the worst people we harbor in America". Holding that candle for Sandy I challenge the darkness that is George Bush saying "I am the Decider" while the bodies pile up. I confront the even darker Dick Cheney who deigns to answer with "So…?" when told Americans believe the Iraq War a tragic mistake.

Who were these "bums" at Kent State that many Americans felt we should have shot more of? First, all photos of the event, and all sworn eyewitness testimony, shows a handful, perhaps five or six students on the Taylor Hall veranda within 50 yards of the Guard .The rest of the students are over a hundred yards away, downhill, well out of rock throwing range. The FBI report notes that the Guard conspired to fabricate the story that they were in danger, going so far as to plant a pistol on Jeffrey Miller’s body,( sworn testimony from civil trials Krause v. State of Ohio).The Scranton Commission ruled that the shootings were "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable". Remember that days after Kent, two students were shot to death at Jackson State and that deadly suppression of dissent has in fact been part of the history of the United States from the early labor movement days through the civil rights years.

Jeffrey Miller was 20 years old, 90 yards from the Guard, killed instantly. Jeffrey was deeply troubled by the Vietnam War and committed to nonviolence. He phoned his mother the morning he was killed, saying he felt he had to attend the antiwar rally. Mary Ann Vecchio , seen wailing over Jeff’s body in the famous Pulitzer prize news photo, spoke at last year’s May 4th commemoration.

Allison Krause, 19 years old was 100 yards from the Guard. Allison reportedly planted a flower in a Guardsman’s rifle barrel earlier, saying "flowers are better than bullets." Written in chalk on the Prentice parking lot asphalt this year near the spot where she was hit was the cryptic question " How far can you throw a rock?"

William Schroeder, 19, as an ROTC student may have understood that the Guard was in a command position, unthreatened on the crest of Blanket Hill 130 yards distant. William was troubled by the Vietnam War, but was not a participant in the rally. He was shot in the back with textbooks in his hands.

Of the nine survivors, Alan Canfora, 69 yards away, has my deep respect for his dedication in commemorating and preserving the May 4th shootings in our national conscience. Together with Robbie Stamps (151 yards) and Dean Kahler (91 Yards) Canfora founded the May 4th Task Force and have brought an Ohio Historical Society designation to the site, and persuaded the University to permanently mark and honor the sites where Sandy, Jeffrey, Allison and William fell. Alan is very active in the Democratic Party, Dean was a teacher and Athens County Commissioner, Robbie a social worker, drug and alcohol counselor.

Thomas Grace (69 yards), Canfora’s college roommate, is a social worker and former union president. John Cleary (34 yards) is an architect. Douglas Wrentmore (100 yards) is a social worker, Scott Mackenzie (229 yards) a teacher.

Joe Lewis, closest to the Guard at 22 yards, is lucky to be alive. Joe is the only student that any Guardsman admitted intentionally targeting. I am proud to have introduced my daughter Lauren to Joe, his words are thoughtful and compassionate, he tells me of the other wounded students today. I note with Joe how many have chosen social justice careers, social worker, teacher, public service. Joe and friend James Russell (114 yards) have spoken at many May 4th annual commemorations. Joe is a water treatment plant operator, James was a draftsman and county engineer. James died of a heart attack this past year, the first of the Kent wounded students to leave us.

How will the Kent State May 4th shootings be remembered when we are all gone? Certainly our nation has wronged them, vilified their character. I rank them with the Boston Tea Party patriots. Like so many truth-tellers before them, they stood up, spoke up when our nation was wrong. Our nation was wrong in Vietnam and is tragically wrong in Iraq. We must not be silent then or now. Speak up for truth, peace and justice. Remember how easy it is to mislead a nation into war. Speak up for those no one else will speak for, care for our veterans. Speak truth to power.

Brad Cotton

Kent State Alumnus