KENT: Rain or shine, warm or blustery cold, they keep coming back to what they call the scene of the crime, a dark chapter in this nation’s history.
May 4, it’s called. The annual commemoration of what happened at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, when Gov. James A. Rhodes ordered the Ohio National Guard there after word spread about student-led protests against the United States’ invasion of Cambodia that President Richard Nixon had just announced on television on April 30. .
Following what was called a rock-throwing incident by some students on May 4 that was met with tear gas from the guard, four students lay dead that afternoon — Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, who were part of the protest; and Sandy Scheuer and William Schroeder, who were just walking to their classes.
Guardsmen fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds. Nine others were wounded, including Dean Kahler, who was paralyzed from the waist down.
Justice — say those close to the dead, wounded or the events of that day — was never served.
For them, May 4, 1970, will forever be an open wound.
Jennifer Schwartz Wright stood vigil late Sunday morning by the concrete lanterns in memory of her cousin and KSU freshman Allison Krause, who lost her life 44 years ago.
“This is absolutely where I need to be,” she said. “I’ve been coming every year since I was 15...
“I was nine months old when she was killed. I never knew her, but I could have known her,” Wright continued, her voice trailing off. “She was an honor student and she was my spiritual mentor, because I later found out from books she had that she was curious about art therapy too.”
Wright, who is executive director of her own art therapy studio in Cleveland, brought along her 8-year-old daughter Allison, named after her cousin.
Standing nearby was Michelle Touve-Holland of Streetsboro.
“I’m a peace marshal,” she said. “I’m here to make sure people maintain respect during any of the dialogues in the lots, vigils or the commemoration. I feel like I still come because it’s important for us to remember that even the smallest decision affects our lives. Just walking to class that day affected two people’s lives permanently.
Akron’s Chuck Ayers, who was eyewitness to what happened that day, said he’s unable to stay away from the May 4 commemorations.
“It’s easier for me to come and exorcise those demons a little bit,” he said. “Then I can be fine for another year...
“It was a day my whole life changed,” the 66-year-old syndicated cartoonist, husband and father of two explained. “Everything I’ve done since then has been affected by it.”
Ayers, part of the KSU class of 1971, said he was on the grassy area “taking photographs for my class when the guardsmen regrouped, turned and headed to the pagoda. It was seconds later they opened fire.”
His photographs and drawings documenting the events of that day are on display in the May 4 Visitors Center.
Among the many poignant and powerful voices sharing memories of the four students who were killed was Chris Butler, who was best friends with Jeffrey Miller. Butler spoke about still having trouble reconciling the senselessness of what happened that day.
Talking about it as if he were in a one-on-one with his therapist, Butler said: “I ducked. He didn’t.”
This year’s event welcomed a speaker from Jackson (Miss.) State College who spoke about the not-often talked about police-sponsored shooting there, 10 days after KSU, that killed two and wounded 12 others. Students there were protesting historical racial unrest, the KSU shootings and what was thought to be the murder of a civil rights icon and his wife, found to be untrue. Some set fire to a dump truck — an act that was met with a barrage of bullets.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org