KENT, Ohio – A static-filled recording of war protesters yelling, followed by a voice and gunfire, was released Tuesday by a Kent State University shooting survivor who claims the tape proves a military order was given to fire on demonstrators.
"The evidence speaks for itself," said Alan Canfora, 58, one of nine students wounded during the National Guard shooting.
Four students were killed in the 1970 shootings, which followed several days of protests over the Vietnam War.
Canfora played two versions of the tape — the original and an amplified version — in which he says a Guard officer issues the command, "Right here! Get Set! Point! Fire!"
To the casual listener, the word "point" can be heard followed by the sound of shots being fired. There is no indication on the tape of who said the word.
The tape, played to a group of reporters and students at a small university theater, was given to Yale University for its Kent State archives in 1979 by an attorney who represented students in a lawsuit filed against the state over the shooting, Canfora said. He found out about the tape six months ago while researching the shooting.
Canfora said he will turn over copies of the tape to federal and state officials with an appeal to reopen the investigation over how the firing began.
"We're hoping for new investigations and new truths," he said. "We need truth; we need healing."
After the shooting, the FBI investigated whether an order had been given to fire and said it could only speculate. One theory was that a Guardsman panicked or fired intentionally at a student and that others fired when they heard the shot.
After an initial investigation, the case was reopened in 1973 when a grand jury indicted eight Guardsmen. They were acquitted of federal civil rights charges the next year.
Larry Shafer, a Guardsman who said he fired during the shootings and was among those charged, told the Kent-Ravenna Record-Courier newspaper Tuesday that he was unaware of the tape and that "point" would not have been part of a proper command.
"I never heard any command to fire. That's all I can say on that," said Shafer, a Ravenna city councilman and former fire chief. "That's not to say there may not have been, but with all the racket and noise, I don't know how anyone could have heard anything that day."
The reel-to-reel audio recording was made by a student who placed a microphone at a windowsill of a dormitory overlooking the anti-war rally, Canfora said. The student turned the tape over to the FBI, which kept a copy.
Stan Pottinger, who helped prosecute the Guardsmen when he was an assistant attorney general with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, said Tuesday from New York that he doubts anything was overlooked then.
He said he could not specifically recall the tape, but that audio recordings and film were carefully studied."I'm so curious about this," he said of a possible order to fire. "That was a major part of our effort."
But he said justice has been served."The Guardsmen were acquitted, the case was closed, the families expressed enormous gratitude for the reopening of the case, and that was it," he said.
But only a small portion of the tape was reviewed during various investigations, Canfora said.
Joseph Lewis, 55, of Scappoose, Ore., shot in the abdomen and ankle in 1970, joined Canfora at the news conference and said he believes the tape recorded a military command to fire.
"It sure sounds like an order to fire. On that day I did not hear an order to fire. I seem to hear one on this tape," Lewis said.
Scott Wilson, an FBI spokesman, said Tuesday that he was unaware of any request to look into the matter.
The Ohio National Guard had no comment on the tape's release, spokesman James Sims said Tuesday.