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Mary Ann Vecchio Just Wants to Forget Kent State

May 5, 1990

Undated (AP) _ A long-awaited memorial symbolizes the desire to record what happened at Kent State University 20 years ago, but the woman whose photographic image became an enduring symbol of that era would rather forget.

The photograph portrayed an anguished Mary Ann Vecchio, then 14, kneeling beside the lifeless body of one of four students slain by the National Guard on May 4, 1970.

The photograph portrayed an anguished Mary Ann Veccio, then 14, kneeling beside the lifeless body of one of four students slain by the National Guard on May 4, 1970.

The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize for John Filo, a student photographer now deputy picture editor at Sports Illustrated magazine. It has become a classic recording of the violent shock of the Vietnam War and its repercussions at home.

But the photograph hounded Vecchio into seeking seclusion.

″It really destroyed my life and I don’t want to talk about it,″ the 34- year-old casino worker in Las Vegas told The Orlando Sentinel this week.

She wasn’t interested in discussing the memorial dedicated Friday on the Kent State campus to the four slain and nine injured students in the anti-war demonstration.

″Big deal. It has nothing to do with my life,″ Vecchio said.

Her image can’t be shaken loose from memories of that sunny afternoon: Her arms raised, her faced in a grimace, kneeling over the bleeding body of Jeffrey Miller, who had been shot in the mouth after lobbing a tear-gas canister back at the approaching Guard.

Students were protesting President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and the continuation of the Vietnam War.

Vecchio was a runaway from the Miami area at the time, and she believes her later run-ins with the law were due to what the photo came to symbolize.

Then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk ″said she was planted there by the communists, and people wrote letters that she was responsible for murdering all those children,″ Vecchio’s mother, 63-year-old Claire, said from the house in Opa-locka, Fla., where she raised Mary Ann and five other children.

″Can you imagine a 14-year-old girl having to deal with that?″

Vecchio’s father, Frank, a maintenance worker for the Dade County Port Authority before he died, recognized his daughter’s face in the photo. He traced her to Indianapolis and had her returned home.

Later Vecchio was sent to a juvenile home, and she was arrested for petty crimes such as loitering and marijuana possession. The press hounded her, she said.

″I’ve been miserable since Kent State,″ she said five years after the shootings. ″Not for any political reasons, but after all the publicity I’ve received, I feel the police have been unnecessarily harassing me.″

Vecchio soon tired of the annual remembrances and refused to take part.

She married a plumber from Kentucky in Las Vegas 11 years ago and they live in a quiet, elm-shaded mobile-home park filled with retirees.

Vecchio returned to school for her high school diploma and has worked her way to a management position at a casino, supervising an army of cashiers.

Others whose lives were tied to the Kent State killings hoped to ease their pain at the memorial dedication Friday.

″We hope to promote an atmosphere of reconciliation,″ said Florence Schroeder, whose son, Bill, was another of the students killed, told about 4,000 people gathered for an hour-long ceremony.

Former U.S. Sen. George McGovern said the $200,000 memorial should encourage reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam, which do not have diplomatic relations.

″The war in Vietnam is unfinished,″ said McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. ″The killing has stopped, but the arrogance that produced it survives, and so does the agony, the guilt and the separation.″

The memorial, on 2 1/2 acres adjacent to the parking lot where the students were killed, includes a granite plaza with four pylons similar in shape to elongated gravestones.

A smaller, waist-high marker, was erected in honor of the slain students in 1971.

Although she and her husband, Louis, participated in the ceremony, the families of Miller and Allison Krause did not show up, university spokeswoman Janet Thiede said.

Ms. Krause’s mother, Doris Krause of Monroeville, Pa., had said she did not plan to attend because she believed the memorial should have been bigger and built earlier.

The parents of the fourth victim, Sandra Scheuer, were on campus but did not speak at the ceremonies.

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