Ohio (4th installment of a 4 part series)

Suddenly a single shot echoed like a crack of thunder off campus buildings and the soldiers began firing into the crowd of students. Several students fell to the ground—dropping like marionettes with cut strings—others scattered, still others simply stood motionless, gazing impassively at the troops or looking casually at the wounded and dying kids lying on the ground while bullets flew around them.

The soldiers continued firing, over and over. The shooting—a hideous, unreal banging roar—seemed to go on for hours. Cheryl like many others, stood passively frozen watching the troops pulling the triggers, firing, rifles recoiling backward into their shoulders, firing again, rifles recoiling again, firing again. Cheryl noticed some soldiers pointing their weapons but not firing. She saw Kevin’s brother fire his weapon several times—the empty shell casings spinning out of his rifle, glinting gold briefly in the sunshine as he pulled the trigger.

When the firing stopped and the last echoes faded into the trees, the air was thick with the smell of burnt sulphur. Blue smoke drifted slowly, silently across the benches and sidewalks in front of Taylor, briefly clinging to bushes. A girl who Cheryl could not see, was somewhere screaming, “Oh God—God—it’s blank—they’re using—they’re blanking—they’re not using—blanks, they’re not using blanks.”

About fifty feet from Cheryl a boy lay unmoving, face down on the pavement. A girl walked over to him, kneeled down and touched him, then began calling for help. The soldiers were holding their rifles in front of them, seemingly unclear what was to happen next. Kevin’s brother was doing something—looking for a cigarette or stick of gum. In the distance—several hundred yards across the commons area—a dozen or more students could be seen casually walking to class as though nothing had happened.

One, carrying a drink, suddenly stopped, put his drink down on the sidewalk and kneeled down to look at a student lying motionless on the grass—a boy wearing a bright yellow sweater—who had been carrying a single red rose bud. The soldiers, including Kevin’s brother, were gone. Cheryl found herself standing on the grass about a hundred feet from where Kevin lay—confused and frozen.

Somewhere behind her and to her left she could hear Graham Nash’s voice saying something and someone else from the band was saying something. All around her vehicles with sirens screaming were converging on the area where the shooting had taken place.

A 1971 study by the Urban Institute concluded in the weeks following the Kent State shootings, over 900 American college campuses were closed—over four million students were involved in protests. Five days after the Kent State incident 100, 000 people demonstrated in Washington, DC against the war and the shooting of unarmed student protesters. The city became an armed camp and descended into chaos—mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, throwing furniture off overpasses onto passing cars. The 82nd Airborne, fully armed, was positioned in the basement of the executive office building. The president had been taken to Camp David for his protection. Ray Price, Nixon’s speech-writer commented regarding the D.C. violence, “That’s not student protest—that’s civil war.”

Graham Nash accompanied Cheryl back to Chapel Hill. Looked after by her good friend Samantha and several members of her band, Cheryl remained quietly in her house, not leaving for nearly a week. She spent this time silently staring at the TV, reading,

practicing guitar, thinking about the people in her life she loved. She spoke on the phone several times with her mother, Jenny. Her appetite was poor, she had difficulty sleeping. She spent hours every day that week, looking out the window watching campus and local police cars patrolling a vacant, silent UNC campus.

Across the street from her house was a large, high-rise dormitory. On the third floor a banner, crudely made out of a bed sheet, limply hung between two windows moving slowly in the hot Carolina sunshine. The message across it, in angry black letters read, “They can’t kill us all.”

End 4th installment—End “Ohio” piece

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