13 Seconds; 67 Shots
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Fifty years ago, these four Western New Yorkers were under fire during the Kent State shootings
As the Vietnam War reached its apex in the spring of 1970, college campuses were a hotbed of anti-war activity. Americans of all ages were divided by a deep political canyon. While some supported the war and its bid to stop communism spreading through Asia, others took to the streets in protest. On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon authorized an invasion of Cambodia, signaling an escalation to the war. Activists across the country reacted swiftly. It led to a tumultuous weekend in Kent, a college town in Northeast Ohio — the ROTC building was burned, property was damaged in town, and the mayor ordered everyone inside under a curfew. On Monday, May 4, 1970, the National Guard opened fire into a shifting crowd of some 2000 people gathered at Kent State University, killing four unarmed students and wounding nine others. This touchstone moment came to symbolize an era. Fifty years later, many who lived through that time, including several Western New York residents who were on campus and witnessed the shootings, believe events at Kent State changed the course of the war.
“It was a moment in time that pushed and turned history,” said Thomas M. Grace, one of the nine who was wounded when a bullet struck his heel. Today, at 70, Grace lives in Amherst and is an adjunct professor at Erie Community College. His book, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties, was published in 2016.
“In my mind, the war ended that day,” said Robin Tashjian, a North Buffalo resident whose roommate pulled her to the ground when the shooting began, potentially saving her life. “I know it went on a while longer, but the Vietnam War ended that day.” “It was a very, very sad time,” said Bill Munson, of East Amherst, who wore his ROTC uniform that day. He was on the hill when the shooting started, and spoke to one of the victims shortly before she died. “As far as I’m concerned, the National Guardsmen shouldn’t have had live ammunition. Why have weapons at all? Everything blew up at the wrong moment. I was 19 years old, and saw death right in front of me. That time freeze-frames in my mind forever.” “It’s a big part of America’s history,” agreed Larry Raines, from Amherst, who was also in the line of fire. He ducked behind a parked Volkswagen when he realized bullets were flying. Moments later, he witnessed the aftermath, cradling another victim just after she died. “It’s still being talked about,” he said. “After that, the attitude of the war in America changed. That woke up middle America, to see that killing on our campus. Before it was a TV war. Here it was real. People started to question what was going on.”
“I always wanted to be part of American history. Unfortunately…” Raines, now 70, has vivid memories of that weekend and its long-term effects. A 1968 graduate of Riverside High School, he had turned 20 the month before, studying sociology and political science. Upon earning his degree, he planned to return to Buffalo and work in the family dry cleaning business. “I always wanted to be part of American history,” he reflected. “That was one of my dreams as a boy. Unfortunately, it happened this way, you know?” Raines was off campus on Friday, May 1, when the unrest began, and didn’t return until the following night. As manager of the basketball team, he appeared clean-cut, yet was aware of the political climate. During his senior year at Riverside, he had been involved in a riot at the University at Buffalo. “We were angry and frustrated at losing up to 500 kids each week who were dying [in Vietnam],” he explained. “It was basically kids my age. We had had enough of it. That’s why the anti-war movement came about, because kids were getting killed for nothing. For nothing.” On Sunday, May 3, Raines participated in a rally on Main Street in Kent. It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration, he said, but the National Guard had arrived in town the night before. Raines blames them for being too aggressive, causing protestors to push back and damage property. Students were cleared from downtown and returned to their dorms after Mayor LeRoy Satrom ordered a curfew. “There was a moratorium on going out of any building, so a few people got stuck in dorms where they didn’t live,” Raines recalled. “Everybody took people in and gave them a floor to sleep on.” One of his dorm neighbors, Dean Kahler, joined the discussion that night. Kahler pulled Raines aside, saying he wanted to participate in the protest the following day, but didn’t want to get in trouble. Raines counseled Kahler: if he chose to go, he should keep Raines in sight. Raines had been in tense situations before, and believed he possessed a sixth sense about when things might turn dangerous.
The Shootings On the morning of May 4, more than 12,000 pamphlets were distributed around campus saying that the noon rally had been canceled. Still, at least 2000 people showed up on the Commons, a wide swath of lawn in a valley behind Taylor Hall. Announcements were made over loudspeakers that the gathering was illegal and everyone needed to disperse. “There was a lot of tension in the air,” Raines said. “A lot of anger. We felt we were being pushed around on our own campus. I wanted the National Guard off campus and to be left alone.” He and Kahler defied the order, laughing at the National Guardsmen who surrounded the ashes of the ROTC Building nearby. When tear gas was released, people ran up the hill to escape its effects. Some protestors hurled canisters back at the National Guard. Kahler and Raines covered their mouths with bandanas. In the confusion, Raines and Kahler were separated. “I didn’t see Dean,” Raines said. “He wasn’t with me anymore.” The National Guard marched up and over Blanket Hill and down toward a practice football field. They realized, however, that this was a tactical mistake. Surrounded by protestors on three sides, they circled back toward the hilltop. Students, including Raines, were throwing rocks at them, and people present that day recall the constant noise. Near the crest of Blanket Hill, guardsmen turned in battle formation, and some fired downhill. Many shots went into the air, but others were aimed at the shifting crowd in the direction of the Prentice Hall parking lot. Noise and Tear Gas “It was charged, and it was loud,” said Robin Tashjian, a freshman psychology and anthropology major who had attended Riverside High School, graduating the year after Raines. She had turned 19 two weeks earlier, and on the morning of May 4 had attended a psychology class before heading to the lunch hour demonstration. “I was there on purpose,” Tashjian recalled. “You protest, but you’re still a good student. We were not doing anything besides what was our right to do. We were under martial law. I heard the crowd chant, and there were incredible clouds of tear gas. There were different factions of anti-war people. Some were intense, and some wanted to back off. Everyone was so wired.”
She recalled being scared to see armored personnel carriers rimming the campus and helicopters flying low, beaming lights into her dorm the night before. That morning, en route to class, a uniformed guardsman had laid the flat edge of a bayonet against her shoulder, demanding to know where she was going. Tashjian was in the Prentice Hall parking lot when National Guardsmen marched up the hill. A can of tear gas had landed a few feet away, striking a nearby protestor in the foot. Tashjian picked it up to hurl back. “As I did, it went off in my face, so I had eyes full of tear gas,” she said. She recalled seeing the guardsmen kneel and aim. When the shots began, she remained standing. Only the quick action of a friend brought her to the ground. “One of my roommates was screaming in my ear, ‘Get down! Get down! Get down!’ I stood for a good part of it. She finally grabbed me and pulled me down.” When the shooting began at 12:24 p.m., 67 bullets were fired. The barrage lasted 13 seconds, but time stretched longer for those under fire. Tashjian recalled what happened next: “There was a momentary silence after that, then the screaming. I will never forget. It was a long time. I was separated from my roommate in this fracas, and I was bereft. When I stood and saw the pool of blood that was Jeffrey Miller, with his head blown off, I knew they were real bullets.” Until then, she hadn’t. “In hindsight, it seems incredible that we would have been so naive to think those guns were not loaded, but we didn’t. Today, of course, there isn’t a chance you wouldn’t think that.” Wounded Friends Raines ran when bullets began flying, stopping when he ducked behind a parked Volkswagen. Five decades later, he recalled seeing two dead. He’s grateful that between him and the line of fire was Solar Totem #1, a metal sculpture that still stands on campus. A bullet hole has been preserved in the artwork.
“There were people shot on both sides of me,” Raines said. “I don’t know for sure, but it may have saved my life.” In front of him, Raines noticed a friend, burly Michael Brock — another Riverside High School graduate who was a linebacker on the football team — picking up a body from the ground, moving someone out of harm’s way. It wasn’t until later that Raines realized the wounded person was Tom Grace, a fellow New Yorker with whom he had roomed during freshman orientation in the fall of 1968. In the confusion after the National Guard stopped firing, Raines came upon the body of Sandy Scheuer, who was killed. Scheuer was not protesting; she had been walking to class. “I knew Sandy,” Raines said. “She was one of the most non-political students I knew. When I saw her on the ground, I knelt down and held her head, but she was gone. It blew me away. I’d never seen violent death before. I went into shock, like most of us did.” Kahler, whom Raines had counseled to remain near him, had been shot too. “The ambulances started coming and people were helping get the wounded out,” Raines said. “I came to Dean on a cart as he was being wheeled to the ambulance. The medic told me he’d been shot in the back but that he was going to make it. Dean has always maintained that he went to the rally by himself, but whenever I think back, I wonder how different things would have been if only he had stayed with me those last few moments.” Kahler survived, settling for a time in southeast Ohio. Fifty years later, he lives in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, and remains paralyzed from the waist down. When Shooting Stopped In the wake of the shootings, Tashjian’s immediate thoughts were for her friends. Gunfire had occurred in front of Taylor Hall, which housed architecture classes. Many of her older friends studied architecture and were activists. She knew they were nearby, in the line of fire. “I was sure they were dead,” she said. A friend who dated an architecture student had planned to meet up with Tashjian. Now Tashjian was on the lookout for her. She did not want the girl to witness her boyfriend if he had been shot. Fortunately, he was not.
Following the gunfire, stunned students regrouped on the Commons. The National Guard insisted that the lawn be cleared. The crowd idled; few were in any mood to leave. Geology Professor and faculty marshal Glenn Frank, along with other faculty members, urged students to comply. His words have become part of that day’s history: “I don't care whether you've never listened to anyone before in your lives,” Frank pleaded. “I am begging you right now. If you don't disperse right now, they're going to move in, and it can only be a slaughter. Would you please listen to me? Jesus Christ, I don't want to be a part of this.” Raines was within earshot, having gravitated toward that valley of lawn. Slowly, dazed students returned to their dorms, and soon word spread that the campus was shutting down and everyone needed to leave. “When we got back to our dorm, there were announcements that we had to evacuate that minute,” Tashjian recalled. “I threw whatever little clothing I could into a small bag. A friend lived in Cleveland and said ‘you’re coming home with me.’ We didn’t know if this was for a day or a week or when we were coming back.” Before leaving town, Tashjian detoured to a friend’s house off-campus with approximately two dozen fellow students. Phone lines were jammed. Tashjian was eventually able to reach her mother in Buffalo to confirm she was safe. “By that time, my mother knew what had happened,” Tashjian said. “She was extremely anxious. Local media had announced that somebody with relatives in Buffalo had been killed, so my mother was in a state.” One of the dead students, Alison Krause, had an aunt who lived in Western New York. Coincidentally, the woman’s home was three doors away from Tashjian’s parents. That was the Buffalo connection. Tashjian had not known Krause. Back to Buffalo “Even after 50 years, I find it hard to describe my feelings because I was so blown away by what happened,” Raines said. “I was just going through the motions, cognizant of what did happen, seeing a friend that I knew from the dorm get shot and killed. My buddy was shot in the back. What the heck is going on here? Why is this happening? Why are American soldiers shooting American citizens on American soil? It just didn’t make sense. “There was a lot of confusion and anger and anguish. Nobody knew what to do. My buddy Michael Brock and I got together. We didn’t live in the same dorm, but we somehow connected and wound up hitchhiking home that day.” Raines made it back to Buffalo, where he spent the night of May 4 in his parents’ home. “I finally had a chance to be with myself, to calm down and think and relax. I thought, ‘Whoa. Wow. It really did happen.’”
His parents were pleased he was safe, but they struggled to identify with what their son had experienced, as well as his anti-war values. “I was part of the generation gap. My parents couldn’t understand what had happened or why. They didn’t know why we didn’t support the war. I kept telling them it was murder.” Like many Kent State students, Raines completed his exams by mail that spring. He returned to campus only long enough to gather personal belongings, then spent the summer of 1970 working for the Port Authority at the Buffalo Airport, cutting grass and repaving a runway. That fall, he was back at Kent to begin his third year. He never considered transferring to another school. Tashjian remained in Cleveland for a week before flying back to Buffalo. She was numb in the days that followed the shootings. “I had actually witnessed it, so I wasn’t connecting in any real way,” she said. “I was in no frame of mind to be doing much.” While many colleges end their spring semester in May, Kent State was on a quarter system, so classes stretched into June. Because the campus did not reopen until fall, professors regularly mailed packets of academic work and made frequent phone calls to students so they could earn credit. That summer, an uncle helped Tashjian secure a job at the Boston State House in Massachusetts, where she typed welfare checks. She was pleased to be far away from everything she had known. Before she left, however, Tashjian was reluctantly interviewed by the FBI for four hours in her family’s living room. The government wanted to learn about everything she had witnessed. Wounded Since last fall, Kent State University has undertaken a year-long commemoration of the shootings to coincide with the 50th anniversary. From his home in Amherst, Tom Grace has been actively involved with the advisory committee. Grace was one of the nine students to be shot and survive. His story has been told many times, he insists, and because of that, he didn’t want to be the focus of this article. But Grace understands that he will always be linked to the event. “There were thousands of people there, really,” he said. “Other than finding myself in front of a bullet, I didn’t do anything to distinguish myself. I’m an obscure person who was involved in a famous event.”
Grace graduated from Kent State with a degree in history and political science. Originally from Syracuse, he moved to Buffalo in 1973 to pursue a master’s degree at the University at Buffalo. While working at the West Seneca Developmental Center, he became union president for the NYS Public Employees Federation, serving 640 local members. In 2003, he earned a Ph.D. in history, and has since taught at Erie Community College. “For many years, I’d be with a friend and we would meet someone new,” Grace said. “My friend would introduce me by saying, ‘This is Tom Grace, who was shot at Kent State.’ I never knew what to say. I finally settled on, ‘It wasn’t an accomplishment.’ Really, if one is in a combative situation, the objective is not to be shot, so in that respect, I’m a failure.” While protesting that day, he was knocked down when a bullet struck his heel. Alan Canfora, his roommate who was shot in the wrist, took shelter behind a tree, yelling for Grace to remain down. Soon, it was Buffalo native Michael Brock who picked up Grace and carried him to safety. Brock and Grace had not previously met. “I didn’t know him, but had seen him on campus,” Grace recalled. “He was an anti-war figure and stood out because of his physical size. He wore a brown leather jacket with a white panther on the sleeve. That day, he was near me and in a position to assist.” Grace doesn’t recall feeling much until he was placed in an ambulance. By the time he reached the hospital, Canfora, who stood near Grace’s gurney, remembered him screaming in pain. In the weeks that followed, Grace developed gangrene, and was transferred to a hospital near his family in Syracuse. He was finally released in late June. Although his parents did not want him to return to Kent in the fall, Grace insisted. “That was where my friends were,” he said. “But in a larger sense, I felt that because we had been subjected to such violent suppression, the last thing we should do is let them think they got away with that. One thing about me is that I have a deep sense of resolve.” Navigating the campus with crutches, Grace encountered Brock and introduced himself, thanking Brock for his actions that day. The two became fast friends, later rooming together on Buffalo’s West Side. Brock passed away in 2001.
“I love Mike Brock,” Grace reflected. “I could talk about him all day.” In 2016, he published Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties. Despite his scholarly work, Grace admits he is weary from years of talking about the Kent State shootings. “You have more authority when you publish a book, and I’ve been asked to speak more since my book came out,” he said. “I’ve had the authority of experience, which is a different form of knowledge. By nature, I’m introverted, so it took some getting used to to have this attention. It’s not something I’m seeking out.” Grace is serious and thoughtful, meticulous in detailing the past. He has read accounts that refer to tanks on campus that day. But there were no tanks — they were armored personnel carriers. He knows that the difference is subtle, but important. Others have talked about protestors hurling railroad ties from rooftops, or guards carrying machine guns, neither of which occurred. “The weapons they had were deadly enough,” he said. When incorrect details become part of a narrative, history is blurred. As a historian, Grace is troubled by such inaccuracies. “We had no weapons” Bill Munson, a 1968 graduate of Kenmore East High School, was wearing his ROTC uniform on Blanket Hill when the shooting began. “ROTC students were trying to quell the disturbance,” Munson recalled. “It was an emotional time, and we were trying to dispel the crowd. We had no weapons, unlike the National Guard.” Describing himself as a conservative kid, Munson, now 69, had joined ROTC with an eye toward the Vietnam War. He expected to end up in Vietnam, like so many others his age, and reasoned that joining ROTC would allow him to go as an officer.
A gymnast and soccer player, Munson had been awarded a full scholarship to Kent State. He and Raines — the manager of the basketball team and a fellow Western New Yorker — often said “hi” when they passed in the gym, although they did not know each other well then. On May 4, Munson ducked behind a sculpture when he heard shooting. When he looked up, he noticed Jeffrey Miller lying on the ground nearby. Miller had been shot in the head. Munson knew several of the wounded and dead, including fellow ROTC student William Schroeder, who was killed walking to class. “I would have gotten hit if I was on the other side of Jeffrey Miller,” Munson reflected. “I went over to Alison Krause while she was being worked on. She was hit in the upper chest. When I talked to her, she was conscious, but was going into shock. That’s something that obviously stays with you.” (Krause died a few hours later.) After graduating from Kent State, Munson earned a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Massachusetts and returned home to work for the Buffalo Bills. He remained there for 44 years, retiring in 2017, having 13 different job titles during his tenure. Back in Buffalo in the 1970s, he reconnected with Raines, whose father owned a dry cleaning business that laundered ushers’ uniforms after game days. Despite being at different ends of the political spectrum, Munson and Raines became close. “He was a left wing radical and I was a right wing conservative,” Munson said. “It’s kind of ironic that we became best friends for the past 40-plus years. Even today, when Larry and I get together, we talk about what happened. We were both affected by it.” Part of Munson’s job with the Bills was to plan for crowd control at the Orchard Park stadium. “I was always aware of what could happen with masses of people,” he said. “I made sure we had plans for ‘what ifs.’ I used to have three role-playing sessions a year on ‘what ifs.’ What if you had a fire or even a terrorist attack? At Kent, I saw how things could go from a small spark to a major fire with disastrous results. There’s no question those experiences at Kent helped me put together emergency plans and think about safety and crowd management.” The Backdrop to Everything Cheryl A. Thompson of Derby was still a high school student in California when the Kent State shootings occurred. When her parents divorced, her mother moved to Cleveland. Thompson began studying at Kent in the fall of 1971 to be nearby. “It was the year after the shootings, and they were practically giving away tuition,” Thompson said. “There were grants and loans to get people to come there. Parents had been pulling their kids out because of the shootings. I wasn’t a radical, but I knew what I was heading into.” Although she did not witness the shootings firsthand, an active student body remained at Kent in the years that followed. “It was a passionate time with the war raging,” she said. “There were strong feelings and emotions. You had friends that died in the war or roommates that dropped out and were drafted. It was just the topic always. It was the backdrop to everything. There was not ever a time when you didn’t have that on your mind.”
Thompson, 66, has had a varied career that included jobs in advertising, travel, and teaching English to non-native speakers. She arrived in Western New York in the mid-1990s thanks to her husband’s job at Delaware North. In 2019, using the name Chera Thompson, she co-authored a novel, A Time to Wander, about a young couple in the 1970s. The protagonists were at Kent State during the shootings, and the story describes that tension, with opening scenes set during the seminal weekend. “People who lived on campus experienced it,” she said. “We were inundated. I talked to friends who commuted, but for them it wasn’t as all-encompassing. We had anti-war rallies almost every Friday. Speakers came and we sat on lawn of the Commons listening to anti-war speeches. Sometimes it was professors lecturing; once Jane Fonda came in. There were some marches, but that wasn’t a weekly thing.” Two years after the shootings, on May 4, 1972 — the first spring she was in Kent — Thompson participated in a memorial march, tracing the path of the National Guard and the location of students who had been shot. That march has become an annual tradition. Now there are historical markers surrounding the Commons, Taylor Hall, Blanket Hill and the Prentice Hall parking lot where four students were killed. The site has been named a National Historic Landmark. Inside Taylor Hall is the May 4 Visitors Center, which provides a historical context to those tumultuous times. Years Pass Today, Raines works part time for the Erie County Clerk’s Office. Most of his career was in the dry cleaning business, and he worked a game-day job with the Buffalo Bills during their glory years — thanks in part to his friendship with Munson. He formerly owned a franchise to assist senior citizens as they downsized from their homes. After the shooting, Raines’ values shifted. He grew long hair, and began protesting regularly, believing in the value of civil disobedience. “Politically, I became much more active,” he said. “I had been the manager of the basketball team during my freshman and sophomore years, but I quit that and devoted myself to whatever I could.”
The Kent State shootings were a key moment in his life. “It’s always affected me in my thoughts and my lifestyle,” he reflected. “But I didn’t let it run my life. It was a part of me, and still is a part of me. But it didn’t dictate how I went through life going forward.” Ten years after the shootings, Raines was part of another touchstone event — and this was more positive. In February 1980, he traveled to Lake Placid with friends to watch the American hockey team defeat the Soviets in the Winter Olympics. He also attended the Buffalo Bills’ four Super Bowls. Raines has met his boyhood goal of being part of American history. His close friend examined the causes of the shootings. “I look back on that day, and see a combination of decisions that were made with emotions, not knowledge,” Munson said. “People don’t understand how quickly emotions can change. No one knew how to handle it. You are never successful when you act in emotion. You’ve got to separate that from knowledge, and very few people can do that.” Survival After graduating from Kent State in 1973, Tashjian returned to Buffalo and took a job with the Western New York Library Resources Council, from which she retired in 2016. She has always been willing to talk about her experiences at Kent State, but only if a listener was interested. “I never wanted to lead with Kent,” she said. “This is going to sound pompous, but I really think that I was meant to be there. And it had to happen in a place like Kent for the world to notice. If the shootings had happened in Berkeley or Columbia, people would have written it off and said, ‘you know how those kids are.’” Half a century later, a spring breeze, a scent, or an ambulance siren can trigger a flashback to those troubled times, Tashjian said. “There’s a certain level of survivor’s guilt,” she admitted. “It could have easily been me that was shot. Or any one of my friends. For a while, you’re thinking I have to do something constructive with my life. Mine has been unremarkable. That plays on you too. Did I waste my chance?” A number of people, who went on to become well-known, were present on campus that day. These include Joe Walsh (a guitarist best known for his work with the Eagles and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Chrissie Hynde (founding member of The Pretenders, and also a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member), Nick Saban (National Championship head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide who has coached several colleges and in the NFL), Tom Reynolds (a former Western New York congressman who was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee), and Gerald Casale (bassist and singer from Devo). Over time, each has reflected on how their experience at Kent State helped shape them.
“We’re coming to the end of our trail,” Tashjian reflected. “I’m not unaware that if young people know about it at all, it’s just a small piece of history. It will go with us, like so many other things.” Tashjian returned to Kent State ten years ago to commemorate the shootings, and had planned to be there this May 4 as well. The calendar lines up as it did fifty years ago, with May 4 again falling on a Monday. The University had a robust weekend of programming scheduled, beginning Friday, May 1. Because of COVID-19, plans are underway for a virtual commemoration instead of a public gathering. “I went back for the 40th anniversary,” Tashjian said. “Some of the parents of the dead were still alive. They aren’t now. We were all sitting on the hill. We were old at that time, and students were playing frisbee and touch football, unfettered by all this. Some of my friends have never been back. The 50th will more or less be the last one, I think.”
©2020 by Jeff Schober
The dead: •Allison B. Krause, 19 •Jeffrey Glenn Miller, 20 •Sandra Lee Scheuer, 20 •William Knox Schroeder, 19 The wounded: •Joseph Lewis, Jr.; shot in abdomen and left leg •John R. Cleary; wounded in chest •Thomas Mark Grace; struck in left ankle •Alan Michael Canfora; shot in right wrist •Dean R. Kahler; fractured vertebrae, paralyzed from chest down •Douglas Alan Wrentmore; hit in right knee •James Dennis Russell; bullet hit right thigh; birdshot struck forehead •Robert Follis Stamps; shot in right buttock •Donald Scott MacKenzie; neck wound For more information, visit the May 4 50th Commemoration page:
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