Terry Strubbe was a Kent State student who set a microphone on the windowsill of his dorm room during the campus protests of May 4, 1970. He recorded what was happening on a reel-to-reel tape. Alan Canfora was wounded by guardsmen that day. He says that on an enhanced version of the recording — just before the volley of gunfire — someone can faintly be heard giving the order to fire.
Students give first aid to a student shot and wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus, May 4, 1970.
Students give first aid to a student shot and wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus, May 4, 1970. © Bettmann/CORBIS
A man wounded when Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on student anti-war protesters at Kent State University 37 years ago says an audiotape recorded that day reveals someone gave the order to fire.
The recording captures the 13 seconds of gunfire – more than 60 shots were fired – that left four students dead and nine others wounded. One of the injured was Alan Canfora, who was shot in the wrist.
On Tuesday, Canfora released newly enhanced audio recordings of the incident. Shortly before the volley of gunfire, he says, a voice in the background can be heard yelling, "Right here! Get Set! Point! Fire!"
"When I first heard that, I was shaking. I shed tears," Canfora said.
Canfora wants the government to reopen its investigation of the May 4, 1970, shootings. They occurred on the fourth day of a demonstration against the recent American invasion of Cambodia, during the Vietnam War. Ohio's governor had called out the National Guard to quell the uprising.
Ever since the tragic events of that day, Canfora has been trying to make sense of it — how an anti-war demonstration at Kent State, not unlike hundreds then taking place on college campuses across the country, could end in bloodshed and death.
He says he has listened to other tapes, analyzed photos and researched witness accounts, transcripts and interviews. Canfora says he has always felt that one of the three Guard officers on the scene must have given an order to fire.
A Kent State student at the time named Terry Strubbe set a microphone on the windowsill of his dorm room and recorded what was happening on a reel-to-reel tape. Strubbe turned over the tape to the FBI as part of its investigation into the shootings.
Canfora says he recently requested a copy of the tape, which has been stored in an archive at Yale University, to enhance it with new technology and give it another listen.
Strubbe could not be reached for comment, but a friend told the Associated Press that "he's curious, like everyone else."
Is it possible such a command might be audible? "Yes," Strubbe's friend says, "it's possible."
Jerry Lewis is a professor emeritus of sociology at Kent State. He was a faculty marshal 37 years ago and witnessed the shootings. One girl was killed right in front of him. Lewis co-wrote a book about the events of that day. He says if the tape says what Canfora claims to hear, it's a very significant development.
"That suggests that we need to find out if there was a conspiracy, a broader conspiracy in the Nixon administration, or a more narrow conspiracy, that the guardsmen on the field worked out to plan to fire when they reached this high point near the pagoda."
Lewis says an answer to whether there was a command to fire would also help provide closure to survivors and families of those killed. Some have long blamed student protesters for provoking the guardsmen into shooting.
William Gordon is a Kent State graduate. Though he wasn't a student at the time of the shootings, he is author of a book on the incident called Four Dead in Ohio.
"It just seems to me highly unlikely that he could hear something that no one else could hear," Gordon says.
"None of the guardsmen testified to it, none of the witnesses heard these words — either witnesses who gave statements to the FBI, or to the federal court under oath in 1975. It really doesn't add up, and it doesn't really jibe with the evidence that we know of today."
Gordon says he doesn't think the enhanced tape deserves a full-blown FBI investigation just yet, but says it would be worth a professional, independent analysis of the tape to see whether further inquiry is needed.
A spokesman for the Ohio National Guard said he doesn't have enough information about the tape to make any comment.
An FBI spokesman said investigators are willing to talk with anyone who has new information about the Kent State shootings. But he said it would be premature to say whether the agency would open a new investigation based on the enhanced recording.