Kent State Shootings
In above Corbis photo, Mary Vecchio is seen running at the rightmost corner
John Paul Filo’s Pulizer Prize Winning Photo [altered photo, below left]
Sixty-seven rounds of ammunition fired over 13 seconds (which killed four students, wounded nine others, resulting in one permanent paralysis) became the shots that changed the world. It was May 4th 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Unpopularity of the Vietnam War was at its peak that spring, and with the invasion of Cambodia a week before, the tension was fever-pitch. In that atmosphere, the Ohio National Guard fired upon students recklessly, harming observers and passers-by.
The tragedy set off a nationwide student strike participated by no fewer than eight million students that shut down hundreds of colleges and universities and came to symbolize the sharp political and social divisions of the age. Among the most potent images to emerge from the incident is this photo of 14-year-old runaway from Florida Mary Vecchio wailing over the body of Jeffrey Miller, one of the slain students. Snapped by John Filo, an undergraduate photojournalism major, the shot appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country and won a Pulitzer Prize.
Filo was in the student photography lab when the shots rang out. The bullets were supposed to be blanks, the shooters later testified that they used the real ones because they were in fear for their lives, which was doubtful based on their distance from the protestors. “Triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State”, Time magazine concluded. Other photographers also captured the scene from other angles. Vecchio was accused by Florida’s Governor Claude Kirk of being planted by the Communists. She later ran away from home again, sent to a juvenile home, and was arrested for loitering and marijuana possession. She later admitted that the picture “destroyed my life”.
An editor had airbrushed the fence post above Ms. Vecchio’s head out of the photo in the 70s and the altered photo has been reprinted in many magazines since.