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'We were in a war zone with no weapons but our voices': On the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shooting, survivors remember the 'horrid barbaric act' that left four dead when the National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War

'We were in a war zone with no weapons but our voices': On the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shooting, survivors remember the 'horrid barbaric act' that left four dead when the National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War
  • Today is the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings that resulted in four deaths and nine injuries after the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War
  • Student led protests erupted across the country as a direct result to President Nixon's announcement that he was expanding the war to Cambodia; none were as militant as the demonstration at Kent State University
  • The National Guard was called in to quell rioters that set fires, smashed shop windows and threw rocks at law enforcement, as a response the guardsmen unloaded their semi-automatic rifles into the student crowds 
  • Survivors and witnesses of that day recall their experiences to DailyMail.com as the 50th commemoration ceremony will take place online due to COVID-19
The Kent State University shootings on May 4, 1970 was a day that changed America forever.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the watershed moment when the Ohio National Guard sprayed bullets on a crowd of defenseless Kent State students who were protesting the Vietnam War on campus. It only took 13 seconds to fire off 70 rounds of ammunition which resulted in four deaths and nine injuries. 
The event left an indelible mark on the nation's history, one that proved to be a defining moment for a country that was dramatically divided over the protracted war. It marked the end of an era and shaped a new generation defined by disillusionment. For those who were there that day, the events remain fresh in their minds.    
'It's a dark chapter in our history but it's something that needs to be embraced for the sake of teaching and preventing a similar tragedy in the future,' said Alan Canfora, a campus leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement who was shot through the wrist during the fusillade of bullets.
Chaos ensued after the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of unarmed anti- Vietnam War protesters at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970. Above, three students run for their lives from a line of soldiers carrying semi-automatic rifles and bayonets
Chaos ensued after the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of unarmed anti- Vietnam War protesters at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4, 1970. Above, three students run for their lives from a line of soldiers carrying semi-automatic rifles and bayonets
The Ohio governor declared a state emergency and called in the National Guard after Kent State students vandalized store fronts and staged a riot in downtown Kent on May 1 as an immediate response to President Nixon's escalation of the Vietnam War. It was the catalyst event that started four days of anti-war revolt which culminated in four fatalities and nine wounded on May 4
The Ohio governor declared a state emergency and called in the National Guard after Kent State students vandalized store fronts and staged a riot in downtown Kent on May 1 as an immediate response to President Nixon's escalation of the Vietnam War. It was the catalyst event that started four days of anti-war revolt which culminated in four fatalities and nine wounded on May 4       
Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway shrieks over the lifeless body of 20-year-old Jeffrey Miller. John Filo, a Kent State photography student won the Pulitzer Prize for taking this image which became a rallying cry and symbol for the anti-war movement and one of the most enduring images from that day
Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway shrieks over the lifeless body of 20-year-old Jeffrey Miller. John Filo, a Kent State photography student won the Pulitzer Prize for taking this image which became a rallying cry and symbol for the anti-war movement and one of the most enduring images from that day
Alan Canfora said he gravitated toward the more 'militant faction' in a national activist organization known as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). 'We were trying to send a message to President Nixon to stop the killing in Vietnam - not only of our soldiers, but also the Asian victims. It was a war of genocide. It was a racist war, so we tried to stop that.'
Just ten days before the shootings, he attended the funeral of a childhood friend that died in Vietnam. He told DailyMail.com: 'While we were at the graveyard, we swore an oath that at our next opportunity we would protest militantly and try to send a message to President Nixon.' 
'It was a time when we felt like marching wasn't doing enough and we had to do something much stronger to get Nixon to hear us,' said Alan Canfora's younger sister, Chic, who was also a student at the university at the time. 'We were all still reeling from attending that funeral and seeing the grief in his mother's face when he they handed her the folded flag. And then to know that more mothers would grieve and more young people in our generation would be sacrificed in that war.'
Everyone remembers that May 4, 1970 was a particularly beautiful day in Kent, Ohio. Belying the excitement of the semester's end was intense resentment over a deeply unpopular, deadly and costly war that resulted in a draft of 2.2 million Americans and nearly 60,000 casualties.
Events leading up to the Monday, May 4 shootings began four days earlier after President Richard Nixon announced that he had escalated the Vietnam War into Cambodia. In the infamous, televised speech he cautioned Americans to prepare for retaliatory protests: 'My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home,' he said. 'Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.'
President Nixon's televised announcement of the US invasion of Cambodia on  April 30, 1970 immediately ignited anti-war protests at hundreds of colleges across America who were angry with his escalation of the divisive and unpopular conflict in Southeast Asia. In the wake of the Kent State shootings, Nixon released a statement that condemned the student protestors: 'This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy'
President Nixon's televised announcement of the US invasion of Cambodia on  April 30, 1970 immediately ignited anti-war protests at hundreds of colleges across America who were angry with his escalation of the divisive and unpopular conflict in Southeast Asia. In the wake of the Kent State shootings, Nixon released a statement that condemned the student protestors: 'This should remind us all once again that when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy'
This photo of Alan Canfora waving a black flag at a line of crouching guardsmen across the field was another seminal image taken by John Filo during the Kent State riots. Canfora said the flag was 'symbolic of my sadness and my anger about my friend dying in Vietnam.' Just ten days before the shootings, he attended the funeral of a childhood friend that died in Vietnam. He told DailyMail.com: ‘While we were at the graveyard, we swore an oath that at our next opportunity we would protest militantly and try to send a message to President Nixon'
This photo of Alan Canfora waving a black flag at a line of crouching guardsmen across the field was another seminal image taken by John Filo during the Kent State riots. Canfora said the flag was 'symbolic of my sadness and my anger about my friend dying in Vietnam.' Just ten days before the shootings, he attended the funeral of a childhood friend that died in Vietnam. He told DailyMail.com: ‘While we were at the graveyard, we swore an oath that at our next opportunity we would protest militantly and try to send a message to President Nixon' 
On the morning of May 4, masked guardsmen in full riot gear were greeted by the chants, insults and rocks of 300 unarmed students in the quad. The guardsmen bayoneted students and lobbed tear gas canisters in an attempt to break up the crowd. Just when it seemed like they were retreating, they opened fire at 12:24pm on scattered demonstrators that were standing 60 yards across a field in a parking lot. Nobody expected the guardsmen to be using live ammunition and to this day, nobody knows exactly why they did it
On the morning of May 4, masked guardsmen in full riot gear were greeted by the chants, insults and rocks of 300 unarmed students in the quad. The guardsmen bayoneted students and lobbed tear gas canisters in an attempt to break up the crowd. Just when it seemed like they were retreating, they opened fire at 12:24pm on scattered demonstrators that were standing 60 yards across a field in a parking lot. Nobody expected the guardsmen to be using live ammunition and to this day, nobody knows exactly why they did it
William Schroeder, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Lee Scheuer, (L-R) were the four Kent State University students killed on campus by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest on May 4, 1970. William Schroeder (left) was killed with a single shot to the back as an innocent bystander. Sandra Scheuer (right) was walking to class when a bullet severed her jugular vein, she bled to death
William Schroeder, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, and Sandra Lee Scheuer, (L-R) were the four Kent State University students killed on campus by the Ohio National Guard during a Vietnam War protest on May 4, 1970. William Schroeder (left) was killed with a single shot to the back as an innocent bystander. Sandra Scheuer (right) was walking to class when a bullet severed her jugular vein, she bled to death
Kent students organized a demonstration the very next evening on Friday, May 1 in the downtown area that led to the looting and vandalism of some local businesses. Officers in riot-gear used tear gas to disperse the crowds but the Ohio governor declared a state emergency. It was the catalyst event that started four days of anti-war revolt which culminated in four fatalities and nine injured.
Things escalated on Saturday, May 2 when the ROTC building on campus was burned to the ground. 'I was active in all that stuff throughout the weekend,' said Alan. Though his sister Chic is confounded by the entire event: 'All those students had tried to burn it down but they were unsuccessful.' Almost 30 minutes after the police had surrounded the entire building, it mysteriously went up into huge flames. 'There is some evidence that those kinds of actions were done on other campuses by agent provocateurs to justify calling in huge displays of force,' explained Chic to DailyMail.com – the very next day, the Ohio governor sent in the National Guard.
By Sunday morning the campus had been transformed into something that Chic describes as an 'armed military camp.' She told DailyMail.com: 'Looking out the fourth floor of my dormitory window was about 150 pup tents and Jeeps and soldiers at our doors that I knew were not there to protect us.'   
The students arranged a peaceful sit-in on Sunday evening, requesting to speak with the President of the university. 'The guardsmen tricked us that night and told us if we got off the street and moved down to the lawn that President White would come out and talk with us.' As soon as the students reached the lawn, the guardsmen advanced on them with tear gas and bayonets. 'Several students were bayoneted in the back and in the legs by guardsmen,' said Chic. 'There was teargas and helicopters flying overhead; we were a truly in a war zone with no weapons other than our voices.'
Contention between the Kent State students and the National Guard reached a dangerous fever pitch by Monday morning. Commuters that went home for the weekend were back on campus and the group of protesters swelled to 300 with anywhere between 1,000-1,500 bystanders - some who were demonstrating against the invasion of the National Guard on their campus, others who were demonstrating the invasion of Cambodia.
Students above rush to the aid of their classmate injured in the 13-second- long barrage which Chic Canfora said felt like a 'horrifyingly long time.' Chic recalls hiding behind a car during the shooting: 'Car windows were shattering over us and all around us we could hear bullets piercing the bodies of the cars, thumping into the grass and on the pavement'
Students above rush to the aid of their classmate injured in the 13-second- long barrage which Chic Canfora said felt like a 'horrifyingly long time.' Chic recalls hiding behind a car during the shooting: 'Car windows were shattering over us and all around us we could hear bullets piercing the bodies of the cars, thumping into the grass and on the pavement'
Kent State University students demonstrate to protest the widening of the war in Southeast Asia. National Guardsmen open fire on the 1,000 students and four fall dead, including two young women. Eight others are wounded. National Guardsmen are shown approaching a school building as students watch, a student is shown bleeding on the ground, and a student on a stretcher is wheeled to an ambulance
Kent State University students demonstrate to protest the widening of the war in Southeast Asia. National Guardsmen open fire on the 1,000 students and four fall dead, including two young women. Eight others are wounded. National Guardsmen are shown approaching a school building as students watch, a student is shown bleeding on the ground, and a student on a stretcher is wheeled to an ambulance
Teenager Mary Ann Vecchio kneels over the body of Kent State University student Jeffrey Miller who had been shot during an anti-war demonstration on the university campus, Kent, Ohio, May 4, 1970
Teenager Mary Ann Vecchio kneels over the body of Kent State University student Jeffrey Miller who had been shot during an anti-war demonstration on the university campus, Kent, Ohio, May 4, 1970
Students responded to the guardsmen trying to break up their rally with rocks, bottles and protest chants. 'We resisted their effort to break up a rally because he felt we had a constitutional right to be there and they advanced on us with tear gas.'
John Filo was a Kent State photography student who missed the entire weekend of protests because he working away on assignment. Slightly disappointed that he missed the opportunity to document what he thought was 'probably the biggest story of my life,' John carried on with his normal Monday routine working in the photo lab on campus.  
Filo had no intention of going to the protest, 'As far as I was concerned the story was already over.' It wasn't until two professors changed his mind: 'They told me, 'No the story has changed, it's about student protests in America now.' With that, Filo set out on his hour-long lunch break with his own 'self- assignment.' Little did he expect to take a photograph so powerful - it would end up becoming the single most defining image of the Kent State Shootings. The photo depicted 14-year-old runaway Mary Ann Veccio crying out as she knelt over the body of Jeffrey Miller and it would garner Filo a Pulitzer Prize.
Another seminal photograph Filo snapped that day was of Alan Canfora, who was waving a black flag while facing down a line of crouching guardsmen with their guns aimed directly at him. 'I was so naive at that time about guns and weapons, I didn't even know if they were carrying shotguns of BB guns,' said Canfora. 'There was never any kind of a hint that armed law enforcement officials might use their weapons. So that has never entered my mind.'
In fact it never occurred to a lot of people on campus that day that the guardsmen's guns were loaded with real ammunition. 'I thought they were loaded with blanks,' said Filo, 'it wasn't until I saw the metal sculpture in my line of view erupt into a cloud of rust and then a chunk of bark on the tree next to me flew off when I thought, 'holy crap, someone's using live ammunition. This scare tactic has gone bizarrely bad.' 
A student throws a tear gas canister back at National Guardsmen during the demonstration held on May 4, 1970. Alan Canfora said that he gravitated toward the more ‘militant faction’ in a national activist organization known as the Students for a Democratic Society as a student. ‘We were trying to send a message to President Nixon to stop the killing in Vietnam - not only of our soldiers, but also the Asian victims. It was a war of genocide. It was a racist war, so we tried to stop that’
A student throws a tear gas canister back at National Guardsmen during the demonstration held on May 4, 1970. Alan Canfora said that he gravitated toward the more ‘militant faction’ in a national activist organization known as the Students for a Democratic Society as a student. ‘We were trying to send a message to President Nixon to stop the killing in Vietnam - not only of our soldiers, but also the Asian victims. It was a war of genocide. It was a racist war, so we tried to stop that’
In the immediate aftermath, an unidentified official tries to encourage a large crowd of students to disperse in order to prevent further violence
In the immediate aftermath, an unidentified official tries to encourage a large crowd of students to disperse in order to prevent further violence
Colleges around the country broke out in protests as a response to the Kent State shootings. Above, a group of demonstrators in Boston Common crowd the steps to the Massachusetts State House. 'I want to make clear, I don't think any students today should go out and, break windows or light fire to buildings or fight in the streets,'  said Canfora. 'But back then it was happening all over the country. Our country was at a breaking point and I don't think we're at that point now. But I definitely  don't encourage people to do what we did'
Colleges around the country broke out in protests as a response to the Kent State shootings. Above, a group of demonstrators in Boston Common crowd the steps to the Massachusetts State House. 'I want to make clear, I don't think any students today should go out and, break windows or light fire to buildings or fight in the streets,'  said Canfora. 'But back then it was happening all over the country. Our country was at a breaking point and I don't think we're at that point now. But I definitely  don't encourage people to do what we did'
After a tense standoff with Alan Canfora, the guardsmen began to retrace their steps back up the hill in the same direction they came from - much to the delight of cheering crowds who thought the debacle was over. But as soon as they reached the top of the hill at 12:24 pm; 28 of the more than 70 guardsmen inexplicably began firing their semi-automatic rifles.
The spray of bullets lasted for 13 seconds, Chic Canfora ran for her life and ducked behind a car. 'That's when we realized the ammunition was live,' she said. 'Car windows were shattering over us and all around us we could hear bullets piercing the bodies of the cars, thumping into the grass and on the pavement.'
'When they stopped and turned and raised their weapons, I thought at that moment, what are they going to do? Are they going to March back toward us? Are they going to shoot? Then I heard the guns going off,' explained Alan who took cover behind an oak tree but was still shot in the wrist.
'I looked at my wrist, I felt the pain, I saw the blood, and I thought to myself, this is just a bad dream. That can't be really be happening,' said Alan to DailyMail.com. 
His roommate, Thomas Grace was nearby and also wounded by a bullet that ripped apart his foot. Canfora yelled at him to 'stay down' as he began to sit up and grab his foot. 'Bullets were zipping through the air around both of us and going into a parking lot behind us where the four students were killed,' he said. 'It was a very harrowing situation.'
After the gunfire stopped, Chic came out from hiding behind the car and saw William Schroeder, 19, three feet behind with blood on his neck and shoulders. 'I learned he died later at the hospital.'  
Chic ran toward another female victim, still holding on to the wet rags that protected her from the tear gas, hoping she could help. 'And it was a young woman that I knew,' she told DailyMail.com. 'But I didn't recognize her because she was already so blue and gray having been shot to the juggler vein. I didn't realize it was Sandy Scheuer who had just been in my dorm room recently, I didn't know it was her until I saw her picture on television.'
Seconds after the shooting was over John Filo looked at the carnage around him and triple checked himself to make sure that he wasn't injured. 'I was thinking, 'how the hell they miss me?' I thought to myself, 'I must be in a state of shock.'
'There were people wounded on my right and when I turned to my left, there was the body of Jeffrey Miller down the hill on the asphalt and you could immediately tell that he was not alive.'
It was then that John Filo snapped the photo that became the visual symbol of a hopeful nation's lost youth. Filo told DailyMail.com: 'I saw this girl kneeling next to his body and I could tell that something was building inside of her emotionally.'
'I was running out of film and having this debate in my mind about when I should snap the photo as I was moving closer and more toward the front of her when she let out a scream,' recalled Filo. 'That sort of got me to shoot the picture. I cranked the camera one more time and I was out of film.'
Alan Canfora didn't realize that Jeffrey Miller, 20, was killed when he later saw him laying in the back of an ambulance at the hospital. 'I always knew him as a peaceful guy, thoughtful always smiling,' said Canfora. 'When I saw that gaping hole in his right cheek, I thought to myself, 'well he's going to have to get plastic surgery.' I was hoping that he was okay. I was in a state of shock, I thought he was still alive.'

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