On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that the United States had invaded Cambodia, a move which expanded military action during the Vietnam War. In response to this, students on college campuses across the nation participated in anti-war protests. At Kent State University, an anti-war rally was held on the Commons, an open area in the middle of the campus which was traditionally used for large gatherings. The May 1 rally included speeches and demonstrations against the war and called for an additional rally at noon on Monday, May 4.
That evening, Friday night in downtown Kent, started as a calm and peaceful college town night but quickly escalated between protesters and local police. Bonfires were built, store windows were broken, and police were threatened. Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared a state of emergency and, with the help of Ohio Governor James Rhodes, ordered all bars to close early. That order increased the size of the crowd and caused local police to use tear gas to break up the crowd’s movements. The following day, May 2, Mayor Satrom requested additional help and Governor Rhodes ordered the Ohio National Guard to Kent.
The Guard arrived around 10:00 pm that evening, but the campus demonstration had already begun. The ROTC building was in flames with more than 1,000 demonstrators watching it burn. The confrontation between the crowd and the Guardsmen again resulted in the use of tear gas. On Sunday, May 3, more than 1,000 Guardsmen were on the campus grounds. Governor Rhodes was also there and called the protesters the worst sort of people in America and that every law possible should be used against them. It seemed that the town was under martial law, but an official declaration was never made. That evening was more of the same – rocks thrown, tear gas used, and arrests were made as the confrontations continued.
On Monday, May 4, student protest leaders continued with their planned noon rally at the Commons. School officials had tried to cancel the gathering, but thousands of people were already there. Kent State police officers and Guardsmen tried to disperse the crowd, again using tear gas canisters, but the protestors only moved back. Over the next several minutes, the Guard and crowd were locked in a tense stand-off. In addition to the protestors, hundreds of bystanders were also in the area, some there to witness the event and others were simply walking by. Estimates include nearly 500 main demonstrators, 1,000 “cheerleaders” who were in support of those demonstrators, and nearly 1,500 spectators watching the events unfold. Nearly 100 Guardsmen, carrying M-1 rifles, stood across the commons near the burnt ROTC building.
The campus rally began as a peaceful anti-war protest. National Guard General Robert Canterbury ordered the crowd to disperse and a local police officer made a similar announcement. The crowd refused and rocks were thrown towards the officer. Guardsmen were told to load and lock their weapons and prepare tear gas canisters while they moved down the slight hill and into the Commons to physically disperse the crowd. Their movements took them towards a practice football field where they remained for more than 10 minutes, some even kneeling and aiming their weapons towards the crowd before moving back over the Commons. Then, as the Guard reached the top of Blanket Hill, more than 70 turned and fired into the crowd. While the events remain heavily debated, the site was ghastly. Four students were dead with nine others injured.
The Mahoning Valley has a close connection to the tragedy as one of the victims was Boardman native Sandra Scheuer. Sandy, as she was known, was a 1967 graduate of Boardman High School and a Junior honor student pursuing a career in speech and hearing therapy at Kent State University. Sandy was also a proud member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. Outside of the classroom, Sandy was actively involved with her local Jewish community.
“To begin to describe what a beautiful person Sandy was would take forever, but there is one thing I want people to know about her which is that Sandy was not a reactionary student and was not involved in the demonstrations at Kent State. Sandy was not the type to cause or incite such events, but rather she always spread joy, happiness and laugher in people’s hearts wherever she went. She was the ultimate of life, especially of my life.” – Bruce Burkland
While not involved with the demonstrations, Sandy did not support the War in Vietnam. Her mother, Sarah, stated in a May 5, 1970 Youngstown Vindicator article, “she thought it was useless, that it was senseless to send young men to die.” Mrs. Scheuer saw Sandy just two days before the shooting when she drove to Kent to bring her daughter some clothing. She asked if Sandy knew anything about the demonstrations, “she didn’t even know there had been a riot Friday night.”
Sandy was walking near the demonstration when the shooting began and she was tragically caught in the gunfire. When the family heard of the shooting, they thought of nothing but Sandy. “I tried to call – it was very hard to get a line, the phones were so jammed up. When I finally got through (around 3 o’clock) they said they had been trying to get to us. They said there’d been trouble, that we should come right away. We went directly to the hospital,” Mrs. Scheuer stated. When they arrived at the hospital, Sandy was dead.
“Sandy was such a wonderful person. She always wanted to help others, and always did. Knowing Sandy has been a significant part of my education at Kent, she made me think, but most of all to be sensitive to others.” – Linda Coats
On May 6, the Youngstown Vindicator reported that the Scheuers talked about their daughter again, responding mechanically to the same questions that had been asked, it seemed, a thousand times before by an onslaught of newspaper and television reporters. That day was their 27th wedding anniversary. In fact, Sandy’s congratulatory card for her parents arrived to them on the morning of May 4. Instead of the gala celebration they had planned, the Scheuers spent that evening burying their youngest daughter.
“She was an extremely kind person always willing to help anyone in trouble. She was a perfect listener, her advice greatly respected … Sandy was my friend. I am a very fortunate boy.” – Marty Levick
The Youngstown Vindicator’s coverage of Sandy’s funeral services showed an image of guests waiting to pay their respects. More than 300 mourners attended the memorial at Shriver-Allison’s North Side Funeral Home. Beyond remembering Sandy as a joyous and happy woman, there was a strong message of peace. Rabbi Richard Marcovitz echoed the hope of Martin Scheuer, Sandy’s father, that “her death was not in vain. Perhaps we will learn the ways of violence and realize we must strive for the way of peace.” Rain began to fall as they made their way to the cemetery for the burial.
“We just couldn’t believe it,” Ray Brown, a neighbor of the Scheuer family told the Youngstown Vindicator. “You see, Sandy was always around – you’d see her and wave and she’d wave back – but, well, she was just one helluva good kid.” Sandy enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, and “everything about life. She was a happy girl,” Mrs. Scheuer said, her voice breaking, “she… she said funny things, she enjoyed making others laugh.” Rabbi Marcovitz called her a “real doll” and when asked if she was involved in the riots he responded, “No, she definitely wasn’t involved.” His funeral message continues to ring out decades later; the hope that the deaths of Sandra and three other Kent State University students will “signal an end to all violence among men.”
Sandy’s father, Martin, passed away in 1999; her mother, Sarah, passed away in 2010 and they are both buried next to Sandy. Mourners and visitors to the cemetery continue the Jewish tradition of placing small stones on the headstone to memorialize those who have passed. Sandy’s sister, Audrey Scheuer, keeps her sister’s memory alive by staying active in commemorating the event and in 2018, she helped to curate an exhibit about her sister at the May 4 Visitor’s Center at Kent State.
“She was the most precious jewel in our life, she was everything we lived for, and now our lives are an empty shell. Sandy represented everything good in this world. She was a gentle girl blessed with a fine sense of humor, a love for life tempered with compassionate concern for the misfortunes of others— qualities which made her warm personality so appealing to all who knew her. What greater anguish is there than the thought that Sandy’s devotion to her studies, her desire to help people, and her ability to fulfill this desire in the field of speech therapy should lead her into the path of a bullet, shot through her lovely neck.” – Martin Scheuer
Scheuer, Martin (1995) “Our Beloved Sandy is Gone Forever,”
Vietnam Generation: Vol. 2: No. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/vietnamgeneration/vol2/iss2/9