TIME: The bullets National Guardsmen fired into a group of student demonstrators at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, were meant to deescalate a situation spiraling out of control. Instead, they inspired a host of demonstrations on campuses across the U.S., and left four students dead, one permanently paralyzed and another eight wounded.
The events on that spring day were several days in the making—several years, really, taking into account the growing discontent among American students about the war in Vietnam. The week before the confrontation, President Nixon had announced that U.S. combat forces were launching a campaign in eastern Cambodia, to the dismay of many students who opposed the war.
On May 1, several hundred Kent State students attended a peaceful protest during the day, but by nighttime anger had devolved into vandalism and destruction. Over the next several days, rumors circulated that a group of radicals was out to destroy the town. The ROTC headquarters burned, to the cheers of droves of students.
On May 2, fearful that the tensions could not be contained, the mayor asked the governor to call in the National Guard. Despite the Guardsmen’s presence, students held a rally Sunday night and another at noon on Monday. The Guardsmen ordered the crowd to disperse, but it did not. The students threw stones and empty tear gas canisters at the Guardsmen, and the Guardsmen returned fire. MORE