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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

VIEWPOINT: Should Kent State shooting case be reopened?

John Filo won a Pulitzer Prize with his iconic photo of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over a slain Jeffrey Miller at Kent State.

In his second famous photograph, Alan Canfora is shown holding a black flag with Ohio National Guard riflemen drawing a bead (a knob sticking out on the end of the barrel of a gun) on him.

Only seconds later four students lay dead and nine others lay wounded, including Canfora.

Canfora is the foremost authority on the shootings and has found an old audio tape which may solve the ongoing question: Was there an order to fire?

The 40th anniversary of the massacre is coming up in May, so I went to Kent State and spoke with Canfora.

The previously mentioned audio tape had been donated to Yale University in 1979 by David Engle, the attorney who represented the students who were shot by the Ohio National Guard.

Only 13 seconds of gunfire were analyzed at the trial, leaving the bulk of the 29 minutes on the tape unexamined.

Canfora requested a copy and was surprised to hear the order to fire immediately before the gun shots.

The recording can be heard online and some people are able to hear the order clearly while others are unable to hear it at all. I thought I heard it.

It will be flown to California and the most modern machinery will digitize it, then experts will give their opinions with regard to the contents of the tape.

But why drudge all this up after 40 years? Canfora contends they are still trying to uncover the truth, but the skeptic in me wondered if further compensation was a motive.

If the order to fire is verified then the case could be reopened because evidence was suppressed or hidden.

These guys settled cheaply anyway — a total settlement of $675,000 to be exact.

Public opinion was very hostile in Northeast Ohio at the time and Ohio only offered this amount because it was the approximate amount they would have to pay for another trial — if it came to that.

Dean Kahler, who will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, received the majority of the settlement money.

The families of the victims killed each got $15,000 and Canfora got $15,000.

Those who got wounded more severely were compensated in a more reasonable way but still not enough. Joe Lewis, who lost half his stomach, got around $50,000. Tom Grace, who lost half his foot, got $43,000. The lawyer received $50,000.

Aside from the monetary aspect and for the sake of history, the central mystery of the Kent State riot has always been one thing: Was there an order to fire or did the individual soldiers decide to fire because they feared for their lives?

Canfora contends that the nearest rock-throwing students would have posed no serious threat.

The higher ranking officers said there was no order to fire.

Some of the individual soldiers said they did hear an order to fire while others said they fired because they feared for their lives.

Some said they didn’t fire, though they actually did. The soldiers collectively admitted to firing 31 shots, but there were in fact 67 shots fired.

It’s important to note that some soldiers fired into the air over the protestors’ heads.

Would the riflemen have done this if they really felt threatened? Wouldn’t that be a way to obey a disturbing order without actually inflicting damage?

Canfora says and others agree that the Ohio National Guardsmen should not have been summoned in the first place.

With the election two days away, Gov. Jim Rhodes may have done more than anyone else to inflame the Kent State situation.

One day before the riot, he said the protesters were the worst type of people in America … worse than the communists.

Rhodes said the protesters had fired at the police and the rioters were burning buildings worth millions.

The rioters did burn the ROTC building, but it was old and dilapidated and there was no evidence that the protesters fired at the police.

He stepped up on the podium and said, “We are going to eradicate the problem.”

On May 4th, four students were eradicated. His rhetoric almost succeeded. One week before the election, he was behind by eight percent but only lost by half of one percent.

The hippies are long gone, and only leaves assemble on the ground around Taylor Hall.

These days there are no zealots at Kent State, but wherever you trek, the past is still serious business.

It’s still serious to Megan, who is showing her cousin from Indiana where it all happened. It’s still serious to the people at the Special Collections section in the library.

It’s still serious to the occasional old man who walks up Blanket Hill as the evening fades. It’s even serious to the people at the campus Starbucks.

And it’s still serious to Alan Canfora.

If the experts find that the order to fire is on the tape, then the investigation should be reopened. Seriously.

Paul Venter graduated with a B.A. in general studies from Indiana University in 2008. He’s getting a master’s in English at the University of Indianapolis.

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