May 3, 2010

40 Years Ago in News History: Massacre at Kent State

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Forty years ago in the spring of 1970, student activists demonstrated on campuses across the United States.

When President Richard Nixon announced on April 30 that U.S. troops were moving into Cambodia, students at Ohio's Kent State University reacted with a destructive beer bash in downtown Kent. Twenty-four hours later, as nearly 800 students watched, the campus ROTC building was burned to the ground.

On Monday, May 4, photojournalism student John Filo returned after a weekend away to find 500 National Guard troops on campus. He grabbed his camera and headed for a student demonstration. There, National Guardsmen ordered protesters to disperse.

Students threw rocks and shouted, "Pigs off campus!"

The guardsmen fired tear-gas canisters. Students threw more rocks. The guardsmen retreated, but then suddenly turned, knelt, aimed and fired.

Filo thought they were shooting blanks. They weren't. A boy lay in a puddle of blood.

"A girl came up and knelt over the body and let out a God-awful scream. That made me click the camera," Filo said.

Four students died. Eight guardsmen were indicted. No one was convicted.

Filo's photograph is part of the Newseum's permanent exhibit of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. Visit the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery for more information.

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