Published April 27, 2009
COLUMBUS, Ohio – An end-of-year college block party spiraled out of control as police fired pellets and used pepper spray to break up hundreds of rioting students who sparked a string of street fires at Kent State University.
Video posted on the Internet shows students hurling furniture and street signs into the flames on Saturday night as a SWAT team in riot gear converged on the crowd. Kent police said the party grew violent after one reveler was arrested and students began pelting officers with bottles, bricks and rocks.
It was the first violent clash between Kent State students and police in years. In 1970, four Kent State students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest of the invasion of Cambodia.
"They were burning pretty much everything," said police dispatcher Rosemarie Mosher. "They were throwing stop signs on the fires, they were throwing chairs, couches, tree branches. Basically anything they could get their hands on."
At least 64 students were arrested, and several officers suffered minor injuries, Mosher said. Students gathered on front porches at about 8:30 p.m. and began spilling into the streets on the unusually warm evening.
When officers ordered the crowd to disperse, students built piles of couches, suitcases and other debris and lit them on fire. There were at least four fires blazing in the middle of the street, Mosher said.
The students led the police down the road starting fires, said Ben Wolford, an editor at the campus newspaper who witnessed the riot.
"They were going into their houses and bringing out office chairs," he said. "Someone said they threw a flat-screen TV on the fire."
Students who lived in nearby houses threw objects from windows to feed the flames. Video shows students huddled on a roof, escaping into a second-story window as a line of about 25 police, their faces masked by plastic shields, forms near the flames.
Choruses of boos were captured on video as firefighters doused the fires, and students cheered as others quickly ran back into the street to spark more.
Officers tried to chase students away from the street and shot them with paint balls and pepper spray, Wolford said. Many students ignored orders to leave, hiding behind houses and peeking out to see what was happening, he said.
"When police first started making their little charge down College Avenue, they yelled, 'Get in your houses or we'll arrest you,"' Wolford said. "When one student stayed on his lawn, two officers sprinted at him and just kind of grabbed him forcefully and arrested him."
On Sunday morning, splotches of paint stained nearby houses, and shards of glass littered the grass and pavement.
"The cops were being nice, and two minutes later we were shot by rubber bullets for no reason," junior Jamie Farrell told the university's student newspaper.
The riot was mostly over by 10 p.m., when more than two dozen police and fire vehicles surrounded the area.
Kent State spokesman Tom Neumann said the students' behavior is inexcusable and the university is awaiting more information from police.
"Obviously, things got a little bit out of hand," Neumann said. The university has not received any reports of injured students, he said.
Wolford said most students believe the violence probably could have been avoided.
"I think if they just blocked off the street, let kids have that road to party on for that night, it would've just been a party and people would've gone home," he said.