In 1970 I was a second year student at Kent State University (KSU). My major was broadcast communications. Prior to attending Kent State I spent nearly four years in the Air Force where I learned photography.
At KSU I wanted to continue creating photographs so I joined the staffs of the university newspaper and yearbook. This was exactly what I wanted. This gave me a lot of freedom to photograph a wide variety campus life. After about a year, I applied to be the editor of the yearbook, which covers university activities from spring through the following fall. I had just been told that I would be the editor for the 1971 book, the Chestnut Burr, the week before the students were killed on May 4, 1970. The campus was very quiet that spring; there had been no rallies or protest about the Vietnam war and the quarter was almost over.
The first rally occurred on May 1, the day after President Nixon announced that the United States would invade Cambodia. Over that weekend, several protests took place on campus. The National Guard was brought in and tensions began to rise almost immediately.
On May 4, I arrived at the journalism office about 10:00 a.m. The editor of the newspaper handed me the phone and said someone from LIFE Magazine in Chicago wanted some pictures and that I should talk to them. I agreed to provide LIFE photographs from the weekend and to cover any events that took place that day. After the victory bell rang to gather students for a rally on the commons, I grabbed my cameras and began taking pictures as I walked through the crowd and down behind the National Guard. Shortly afterward the guard ordered the students to disperse the area because all gatherings were illegal.
In a few minutes the guard began shooting tear gas cannisters into the crowd. Many students began running to nearby dorms and classrooms, while others just headed across campus away from the guard. I followed the guard with their fixed bayonets, taking pictures of protestors throwing tearing gas back at the guard and then running with their hands over their faces.
As the guard moved around both sides of the Journalism building many of us thought their action was over, and we followed around the building to see what happened to the guard. They had trapped themselves on a practice football field with a chain link fence behind them and on both sides and students regathering in front of them. Several guards knelt and pointed their rifles while the leaders discussed their next move. Their tactic was to directly confront the students in facing them and cross up the hill in front of Taylor Hall, the Journalism School.
I followed the guards from the side and behind without taking any pictures because nothing was happening except for their march. When they reached the highest point on the hill, the last row of guardsmen turned, kneeled and began shooting at students. I was about 80 feet in front of the guard when the firing began. I believed their were shooting blanks and did not feel I had anything to fear. I took a photo of the guard just after they turned and then decided to grab my camera bag and kneel down.
After a few seconds I looked up and heard people shouting "Oh my God, they’re shooting real bullets, people are dying." I began taking pictures again, this time of the slain unarmed students in front of me and beside me. As I walked down the hill I spotted Jeffrey Miller lying in the street, his headband laying on one side and a stream of blood flowing down the street . I began taking pictures as a young girl kneeled over the body with a look of dismay and then horror. I continued taking pictures as the news of spread that students had been shot and that some of them were dead.
Shortly afterward the school was closed and I shipped my film to LIFE Magazine in New York. A few days later I received a call from LIFE telling me that one of my photos had been choosen for the cover.
As a witness to this tragedy, I will never forget what I experienced. No one could believe that the guard had opened fire on unarmed students and killed them. Some of these kids were friends of the students who were shot. I saw their faces and I could feel their pain, and I took their pictures so that no one would ever forget what happened at Kent State and the trauma that it caused for our nation.
Ruffner in RealAudio
"Oh my God, they're shooting real bullets..."
no reason why students
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