Violence erupted on the campus of Penn State Wednesday night after the school's board of trustees ousted its legendary football coach and university president in the wake of a widening child sex abuse scandal.
Riot police were deployed in State College, Pa., late Wednesday as thousands of Penn State supporters vented their anger at the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier over the school's handling of child sex abuse allegations against a former coaching assistant.
At around 12:20 a.m. local time Thursday, the university issued an official police dispersal order through Facebook, warning students to vacate downtown State College immediately. It came after several violent scenes in which protesters flipped over a media van and destroyed other property.
About 2,000 people gathered at Old Main and moved to an area called Beaver Canyon, a street ringed by student apartments that were used in past riots to pelt police, Fox affiliate WTXF-TV reported.
The disorder escalated after the school's board of trustees held an emergency meeting Wednesday night and later announced that they had dismissed Paterno, the longest-tenured coach in major-college football, and Graham Spanier, the school's president for the past 16 years.
Both were ousted by a board of trustees fed up with the damage being done to the university's reputation by a child sex-abuse scandal involving Paterno's one-time heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period through a charity he founded for at-risk youth.
Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business, have also been charged with perjury in connection with their testimony before a grand jury considering the evidence against Sandusky. They failed to notify authorities about the abuse, prosecutors said. Curley and Schultz have maintained their innocence.
While several arrests were made in State College Wednesday night, the disorder was controlled amid a strong presence from state police.
Hundreds of students gathered at the HUB-Robeson Center, the student union, to watch the board of trustees' news conference on a big screen. When the announcement came that Paterno would not coach again at Penn State, students gasped and hushed. Women began to weep.
John Surma, the board's vice president, said he called Paterno at home Wednesday to deliver the news. He said the board's vote was unanimous.
About two hours after the firing, Paterno came out of his house to greet about 200 students who had gathered there, WTXF-TV reported.
"Pray for the [sexual abuse] victims," he told the crowd. "We love you."
He also issued a statement, obtained by Fox News, saying that he was disappointed with the board's decision but would have to accept it.
"A tragedy occurred, and we all have to have patience to let the legal process proceed," his statement said. "I appreciate the outpouring of support but want to emphasize that everyone should remain calm, and please respect the university, its property and all that we value."
Paterno added, "I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt."
Earlier Wednesday, Paterno had announced that he would retire at the end of the season.
He had planned to coach Saturday against Nebraska in what is the team's final home game of the season. Just before 4:00 p.m. local time, he left his home to attend football practice.
"At this moment, the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status," he said. "They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can."
Paterno, 84, major-college football's all-time wins leader, had come under criticism for how he responded to learning of an alleged incident involving Sandusky and a child in 2002.
Sandusky, a Penn State coach from 1969 to 1999, has been charged with 21 felony counts of sexually abusing eight boys over a decade and a half. Sandusky has maintained that he is innocent of the charges.
Upon hearing of the incident from a witness, later identified as Mike McQueary, who is now the team's wide-receivers coach, Paterno reported it to athletic director Tim Curley but not to police, according to state prosecutors.
Although Paterno has not been charged in the case, Pennsylvania state police commissioner Frank Noonan suggested there was a "moral responsibility" to contact police about potential sexual abuse involving children.
Assistant coach Tom Bradley will take over from Paterno in an interim capacity, while the school's executive vice president and provost Rodney A. Erickson will replace Spanier as president.
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Newscore contributed to this report.