Shots fired at Guard, declassified files indicate
May 4, 2010
By James Rosen
Now largely forgotten, the torching of the ROTC building was the true
precursor to the killings at Kent State because it triggered the
deployment of the National Guard to the fevered campus.
That deployment climaxed in bloodshed on the afternoon of May 4,
1970, with the guardsmen, clad in gas masks and confronted by angry,
rock-throwing students, firing their M-1 rifles 67 times in 13
seconds, killing Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and
William Knox Schroeder.
A report submitted to Attorney General John Mitchell in June 1970
stated "there was no sniper" who could have fired at the guardsmen
before the killings.
Numerous witnesses corroborated this.
A female freshman provided the FBI with a sworn statement that "there
was no shot before [the guardsmen's] volley, and there were no
warning shots fired." The Justice Department's internal review cited
statements by six guardsmen who "pointedly" told the FBI that their
lives were not in danger and that "it was not a shooting situation."
Yet the declassified FBI files show the FBI already had developed
credible evidence suggesting that there was indeed a sniper and that
one or more shots may have been fired at the guardsmen first.
Rumors of a sniper had circulated for at least a day before the fatal
confrontation, the documents show. And a memorandum sent to FBI
Director J. Edgar Hoover on May 19, 1970, referred to bullet holes
found in a tree and a statue evidence, the report stated, that
"indicated that at least two shots had been fired at the National Guard."
Another interviewee told agents that a guardsman had spoken of "a
confirmed report of a sniper."
It also turned out that the FBI had its own informant and
agent-provocateur roaming the crowd, a part-time Kent State student
named Terry Norman, who had a camera. Mr. Norman also was armed with
a snub-nosed revolver that FBI ballistics tests, first declassified
in 1977, concluded had indeed been discharged on that day.
Then there was the testimony of an ROTC cadet whose identity remains
unknown, one of the pervasive redactions concealing the names of all
the FBI agents who conducted the interviews and of all those whom
they interrogated. Although presumably angry over the demonstrators'
destruction of the campus ROTC building, the cadet's calm, precise
firsthand account nonetheless carries a credibility not easily dismissed.
Before the fatal volley, the ROTC cadet told the FBI, he "heard one
round, a pause, two rounds, and then the M-1s opened up."
The report continued that the cadet "stated that the first three
rounds were definitely not M-1s. He said they could possibly have
been a .45 caliber. … [He] further stated that he heard confirmed
reports of sniper fire coming in over both the National Guard radio
and the state police radio."
The cadet also told the FBI he observed demonstrators carrying
baseball bats, golf clubs and improvised weapons, including pieces of
steel wire cut into footlong sections, along with radios and other
electronic devices "used to monitor the police and Guard wavelengths."
Separately, a female student told the FBI she "recalled hearing what
she thought was [the sound of] firecrackers and then a few seconds
later [she] heard noise that to her sounded like a machine gun going
off, but then later thought it may have been a volley of shots from
Absent the declassification of the FBI's entire investigative file,
many questions remain unanswered including why the documents quoted
here were overlooked, or discounted, in the Justice Department's
At a minimum, the FBI documents strongly challenge the received
narrative that the rioting in downtown Kent was spontaneous and
unplanned, that the burning of the ROTC headquarters was similarly
impulsive and that the guardsmen's fatal shootings were explicable
only as unprovoked acts.
The FBI files provide, in short, a hidden history of the killings at
Kent State. They show that the "four dead in Ohio" more properly
belong, in the grand sweep of history, to four days in May, an angry,
chaotic and violent interlude when a controversial foreign war came
home to American soil.
James Rosen, a Fox News correspondent, examined previously
undisclosed FBI files on the Kent State shootings while researching
his biography "The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate."