Looking for proof

Morgan Day

May 4 victim: guardsmen were ordered to fire

Alan Canfora, May 4 victim and director of May 4 Center, unveiled new audio evidence about the shootings at a press conference yesterday. BRIAN MARKS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

On May 4, 1970, Alan Canfora took part in the student protest at Kent State.

As he waved a black flag for his friend who was killed 10 days earlier in the Vietnam War, he was shot through his right wrist – which held the waving flag.

Canfora, director of the Kent May 4 Center, presented alleged evidence yesterday that an order was given to fire on the unarmed, protesting students.

About 50 people came to the press conference in the Kiva to hear the CD-recording of what Canfora said is an order to fire that preceded 13 seconds of gunfire. He obtained the CD from the Yale University archives.

“For those of us who saw the shootings, we knew exactly, on May 4, what had happened,” Canfora said. “We knew that we had witnessed a historic crime, a massacre of unprecedented proportions.”

Terry Strubbe, a Kent State student in 1970, turned on his audio recorder, set it on his Johnson Hall bedroom windowsill and left the room once tear gas started filling it, Canfora said. The original cassette recording belongs to Strubbe and is locked in a safety deposit box.

Canfora said the tape helped “debunk myths” of that day. For instance, it was later discovered that guardsmen fired 67 shots, not 31, as previously believed. Also, he said the tape helped determine that there was no sniper, as the guardsmen claimed.


Canfora played the CD several times and said he could clearly hear the words “Right here! Get set! Point! Fire!” He said this was undeniable evidence that there was a call to fire.

Sophomore accounting major Nate Arps and sophomore business management major Amanda Feiock said they could hear a few, but not all, of the words in the command to fire.

“I think it’s crazy how the case could be open again after 30-some years, and the truth is still not found,” Arps said.

Joseph Lewis, a student at the time of the shootings, said he waved his middle finger at the National Guardsmen on May 4. He ended up being shot once in the abdomen and once in the leg.

“Believe me, I never expected them to shoot,” Lewis said. “I would’ve never given them the finger if I thought they would shoot.”

He said he has strong mixed feelings about what took place, and he still doesn’t see a cause for it.

“I have for 37 years believed there was a cover-up,” he said. “No one deserved to be prosecuted, let alone killed.”

Canfora said he is only seeking the truth – not revenge or retribution – by presenting the CD. In turn, he said he hopes members of the National Guard and families of the victims will help the Kent May 4 Center to uncover the truth about that day.

“Kent State University was wronged in 1970,” he said. “I believe this university became the fifth victim when they were trampled upon by Governor (James) Rhodes and the National Guard.”

Ron and Laura Duncan, of Middlefield, have been coming to Kent State each May 4 for the last 15 years. They both consider the shootings a historical learning experience and relate it to a pollution cover-up in their town in 1968.

“It took a long time to unmask the cover-up in Middlefield, and I hope they can do the same here today,” Ron Duncan said before Canfora spoke.

Canfora said at least five shooters testified in federal court in 1975 during a 14-week trial. They reported hearing a verbal command to fire before gunfire broke out atop Blanket Hill, and he said several students said the same thing.

Some guardsmen, however, said a sniper fired the first shot at the students. Others said the students were about to overrun the guards. The guardsmen claimed their lives were in danger, Canfora said.

He said the three officers who were standing on the hilltop – Robert Canterbury, Charles Fassinger and Harry Jones – continue to deny they issued a command.

“It’s time for one of them to admit the truth and perhaps admit where the ultimate order came from,” he said. “Was it Columbus, or was it Washington (D.C.)?”

“It’s quite interesting that they’re trying to get to the bottom of this to find out what happened,” Laura Duncan said. “It’s long overdue.”

Contact safety reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].