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Tragedy at Kent State

By Patrick Mondout

On May 4th, 1970, U.S. National Guardsmen opened fire on students demonstrating against the war in Southeast Asia at Kent State University in Ohio. The National Guard had been sent in to prevent riots and regain control of the campus but began shooting after some of the students began throwing rocks. More than 60 shots were fired and when the dust had settled four students were dead and nine wounded.

John Paul Filo's photo of a young woman kneeling over the body of a student killed at Kent State appeared on front pages around the nation on May 5, 1970. Seeing American troops firing on American students was shocking and led many otherwise patriotic citizens to rethink their views on the war.

The killings at Kent State were followed shortly after by the murders of two black students at Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi. Although clashes between war protestors and the police/military had been escalating in the past year, the nation was nonetheless shocked by the senseless killings.

  From the May 4 collection at Kent State  

Violence erupts on the campus of Kent State. The FBI has well over 1,000 pages of documents on this event.


From the May 4 collection at Kent State


It should be noted that many of the protesters - including the woman kneeling above the bleeding body of one of the dead students - were not students at all. They were a hodge-podge of leftists, anti-war activists, former students, and others who were reacting to the recent decision to send U.S. troops to Cambodia.

In fact, the woman in the photograph was actually 14-year-old runaway Mary Ann Vecchio! Her father in Florida was stunned to see her on the front cover on Newsweek. She was tracked down by reporters at a hippie colony in Indianapolis a few weeks later and sent home.

In the end, the killings accomplished what many in the antiwar movement were demanding: The war was brought back home and America would no longer look at its involvement in Southeast Asia with any complacency.

Where are they now?

The administration at Kent State - to their credit - has not ignored history and has tried to learn whatever lessons could be learned from that tragic event. They have dedicated a Memorial Room in their library containing materials related to this event. In addition, the University has established an academic program designed to help students and others employ peaceful conflict resolution to resolve disputes. To learn more about Kent State's activities regarding the events of May 4th, visit their web site.

The girl in the photograph was last seen at the 25th Anniversary event at Emerson College in Boston. There she met the photographer who took her picture for the first time and answered reporters questions. Her name is now May Ann Vecchio Gillum and she is a cashier at a casino in Las Vegas where she is living with her long-time husband and three kids.



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"Both of my parents attended Kent State University at the time of the shootings. What often goes undocumented is that Kent students at the time could best be described as complacant and disinterested in the anti-war movement. The bulk of the student body origanted in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio - a hotbed for Pan-Hallaenic madness, but not for activism of any sort. Leftist protestors moved from university to university to stage events aimed at shocking students into anger over the war. At Kent, they only managed to drive a group of drunken frat-boys to burn the Army ROTC building, sparking the governor's decision to send the National Guard to campus.

The same type of rousers could get Kent State frat-boys drunk and in a stupor, or Beavis and Butthead, for that matter, to burn down a building today. Excess testosterone with no connection to the anti-war effort. With the national guard on campus, the same protestors aggitated the officers until they up and shot at the group of protestors. Most of those pictured in news reports were not Kent students because only a handful of Kent students took part in the protests. The tragedy of the event is that innocent Kent students on their way to class lost their lives in the resulting gun battle. My mom accidently entered the battlefield on her way to a sorority meeting to plan a formal. Her neighbor, Susie Sherer (sp?), a nursing student, had a class and ended up dead as she attempted to go from her apartment to the nursing school. Tragic day."

--Ryan L



Many books have been written about this tragedy, including James Michener's What Happened and Why. The most recent is Four Dead in Ohio: Was Their a Conspiracy at Kent State? by William Gordon.

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