Kent State University Marks 25th Anniversary of Shootings
KENT, Ohio (AP) _ The Kent State University campus looked back at tragedy Wednesday, 25 years after National Guardsmen opened fire and killed four students and Mary Ann Vecchio’s moment of agony was frozen in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
Vecchio, then a 14-year-old runaway, was pictured kneeling with arms upraised in horror over the body of Jeffrey Miller. She returned to campus for a cameo appearance as herself in a play about the May 4, 1970, shootings.
Her key line to actors portraying the slain students: ``You don’t have to be dead to be in purgatory.″
After the play she hugged and cried in the arms of Elaine Holstein of New York City, Jeffrey’s mother.
At the Wednesday afternoon close of a two-day symposium, veterans of campus protest tried to put the Kent State shootings into a larger context.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a ``MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour″ correspondent who was one of the first two black students admitted to the University of Georgia, said student activists of the 1960s and ’70s were not heroes. They were simply ``doing what they were born to do.″
``We were walking the freedom trail,″ she said.
Three days of unrest on the campus began with student protests against the Vietnam war and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Then-Gov. James A. Rhodes ordered the National Guard to restore order.
At 12:24 p.m. on May 4, as demonstrations raged around them, guardsmen opened fire.
In 13 seconds, 13 students were killed or wounded, stunning the nation and galvanizing the anti-war movement.
Vecchio’s appearance was for a play by Emerson College Professor J. Gregory Payne. In ``Kent State: A Requiem,″ the four dead students examine the events that led to the shootings.
Vecchio, who still has the same long, straight black hair and familiar almond-shaped eyes captured in John Filo’s photo, said she received hate mail for years after the shootings. Her line in the play refers to that unwanted notoriety.
It was she who spoke it in real life as well, after a read-through of the play last month.
``She came up to me and said, `You know, you don’t have to be dead to be in purgatory. I feel like I’ve been there for 25 years,‴ Payne said.
Vecchio, a runaway from Miami, was picked up by the FBI several weeks later and returned to her parents. She eventually married a plumber from Kentucky, has three stepchildren and works as a restaurant cashier at a Las Vegas casino.
At 12:24 p.m. on Thursday, a bell will ring 15 times, once for each Kent State student killed or wounded, and once each for two Jackson State University students killed in a protest 10 days later.
Student interest in this year’s commemoration seemed lukewarm. Few of today’s undergraduates were even alive when Miller, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheur and Bill Schroeder were killed and nine others wounded.
At outdoor desks, vendors offering tarot readings and books on Che Guevera and Marxism competed with pitches for no-fee VISA and MasterCards.
``People of my generation have a hard time associating with it,″ said Dave Schelhorn, a 24-year-old graduate student from Hershey, Pa. ``I really didn’t know about it at all. Then I came here and started learning about it.″
Others had stronger feelings. A small group of conservative students chalked protests such as ``Anti-War Protesters Are At Fault for May 4″ on the sidewalk surrounding the memorial to that day.
A Portage County special grand jury found that the guardsmen acted in self-defense and exonerated them of criminal charges. Eight were later indicted on federal charges of violating the students’ civil rights, but those charges were dropped.
The wounded students and the families of the dead settled a $40 million suit out of court in January 1979 for $675,000.