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The Kent State university shootings (a.k.a. “The Kent State Massacre”) were a touchstone for the Viewnam-era American anti-war movement. On May 4, 1970, after three days of campus-wide unrest, 29 (out of 77) National Guard troops fired their M1 Garand rifles on a group of protesters. In all, they loosed 67 bullets, killing four students and wounding nine. Wikipedia explores the cause celebre’s causation: “The Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardsmen, which itself remains a debated allegation. Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance between them and the students killed or wounded. The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest avoided probing the question regarding why the shootings happened. Instead, it . . .  concluded that ‘the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.'” But, perhaps, understandable. New information from sheds light on the possible roots of the tragedy.

Friday May 1, 1970 was busy on campus, {the unnamed former student] recalled. He was 19, a freshman. Exams approached. Stress was high, exacerbated by war news. Nixon bombed Cambodia. This prompted a spontaneous protest on campus to bury a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“Everybody was working real hard that Friday,” he said. “My friends and I decided to blow off steam by having a squirt gun fight. After dinner, we ran around campus chasing each other. One of the buildings we went into was the Department of Education, to fill our squirt guns. We were running around in there, too. The janitors were there, saw us. We finished our squirt gun fight, went back to the dorms and crashed.

The theory: The Guard—or at least their leaders—caught wind of the guns and believed the student protesters were armed. Here’s the alleged link.

Blame laying continued for years. But one of the first official reports of the tragedy dealt harshly with the protesters, and noted that several “armed students” had attempted to take over the Department of Education building “a few days prior to May 4.”

“That must have been me and my buddies with our squirt guns,” he said. “They must have thought the guns were real, that we were trying to take over.”

Note: they weren’t and they were. But any way you look at it, neither side helped each other, before or after the shootings.

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  1. Sorry, but there is no connection between squirt guns and the Kent State killings. Take it from someone who has studied the evidentiary record and wrote a book ("Four Dead in Ohio" about the killings.

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