Elissa Shockley tried to tell this story 20 years ago, but “got too emotional and couldn't finish it.”
After reading a recent column in which I mentioned William Schroeder, one of the four students killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970, she decided she was ready.
So here's another May 4 story you haven't heard.
Shockley, who now lives in Cuyahoga Falls, met Schroeder in downtown Kent a couple of days before he was killed. He may have saved her life.
As I noted on May 7, Schroeder, an ace student, was an Eagle Scout in high school and won a scholarship to Kent State's ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program. He was on his way to class when he was hit in the back by a National Guard bullet fired from 382 feet away.
Shockley, then known by her maiden name, Noffsinger, was a 19-year-old graduate of Buchtel High School who enjoyed hanging out in Kent on the weekends.
In those days, it was legal for anyone over the age of 17 to drink low-power beer, known as “three-two” for its 3.2 percent alcohol content.
She was in a bar on Water Street that Friday, the night violence broke out as a mix of students, outside agitators and others expressed their extreme displeasure with President Nixon's decision to widen the Vietnam War into Cambodia.
Windows in downtown businesses were broken, fires were set and the crowd mixed it up with local police, who shut down the bars early and ordered people to disperse.
We'll let Shockley take it from here.
“We were downstairs, and you had to go up the stairs to get out. Everybody said, 'There's something going on,' and started to rush out of the bar. So we went out and there was a mattress and part of a car on fire right in front of the bar. We're going, 'What the heck is going on?'
“We were trying to get back to our friend's car, which was parked up the street, and as we're walking up the street something went over our head and went into the wooden fence next to us. That's when Bill Schroeder and his friend Alan said, “Guys, I think somebody just shot at us. We don't know you guys and you don't know us, but it's dangerous out here. Where are you guys going?'
“We said, 'We were trying to get to the car.' And Bill said, 'I think we should maybe get indoors. Our apartment is around the corner. Let's go to the apartment and just hang out and see what's going on.'
“He told us their names and then he showed us his license. [She laughs.] He said, 'I just want you to know I'm on the up-and-up. I'm not trying to hustle you.'
“So we went to his apartment and we hung out there all night playing cards and drinking coffee and just talking about stuff.
“That's when we found out he was in ROTC. He was upset. He said, 'You know, I'm in ROTC. I'm supposed to be in charge of this stuff. I'm supposed to be trying to help.'
“He was a really nice guy.”
With the citywide lockdown, Shockley didn't have many options. But she didn't want her parents to know what was going on.
“I think that was the only time my dad was out of town. He would have had a conniption knowing I was staying out all night. So I called my mom and told her, 'Hey, I'm staying over with Sally.' I didn't want her to get all upset knowing we were in Kent on lockdown.”
The next morning, the two women tried in vain to find the friend who had driven them to Kent. Finally, they left a note on her car saying they had met some guys who were taking them back to Akron.
On the way home, Schroeder asked what they were planning to do that night. Told they were going to hit the Draft House on state Route 619, “He said, 'Well, maybe we'll see you there.' I never thought we'd see him again, truly.”
But the guys showed up. “We talked about what had happened. Bill was worried. He said, 'I think this could escalate and get dangerous because people are really going crazy.' ”
Sally and Alan made plans to go on a date the following night, Sunday. Schroeder said he was going to stay on campus and try to help keep things calm.
On Monday, Shockley went to her job at Paul Harris in Summit Mall. “Somebody said, 'You're not going to believe this, but they shot a bunch of kids at Kent State.' And there was Bill's picture.”
At the time, the Beacon Journal was an afternoon paper, so the shootings were reported the same day.
“And I'm like, WHAT?! We were just with him! We just met him! He was there to keep things calm. That's why he was going back.
“We couldn't believe it. We just could not believe this was the guy we had just met.”
Shockley and her friend went to Schroeder's calling hours, hoping to speak with his mother. So many people showed up, though, that they couldn't even get close.
Much later, Shockley phoned Schroeder's mom. They missed connections, but Shockley left a message. “I wanted her to know that Bill wasn't causing any trouble, that he was there to calm things down.”
Oddly enough, the man Shockley would eventually marry was out of town that weekend with — get this — the Army Reserves. He phoned her a couple of days after the shooting.
“He said, 'Well, you know, those guys [in the Guard] had to protect themselves.' I said, 'No, the guys we were with were there to try to calm things down. They weren't there causing any problem. They were there trying to make sure nobody got hurt.'
“I always wanted to stick up for Bill because maybe he saved our lives that night.”
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31