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Photographer Howard Ruffner Discusses Images from the Kent State Protests 30 Years Later

Aired May 4, 2000 - 1:32 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Remembrance services are being held today at Ohio's Kent State university to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the deadly confrontation between students and National Guard troops. Four students were killed when soldiers opened fire after days of anti-Vietnam War protests on campus. Nine others were wounded.

About an hour ago, these bells rang out on campus during a period of silence for the victims at the same time the first shots were fired 30 years ago.

Howard Ruffner was a broadcast major at Kent State when he was hired as a stringer photographer to capture the protests. One of his pictures was used for this cover of "Life" magazine the following week and has since become one of the era's more signature images.

Howard Ruffner joins us now from Kent, Ohio, to talk about that day.

What comes up for you, Mr. Ruffner, if anything, when you look at that picture that was on the cover of "Life"?

HOWARD RUFFNER, KENT STATE PHOTOGRAPHER: When I see the picture on the cover of "Life" I recognize, you know, a lot of emotions go through me because that was day I had an opportunity to do something for -- as a photographer, but at same time I am always reminded that four people died that day, four unarmed students, and nine other students were wounded, and I still have not resolved to myself why it was necessary to shoot anybody.

WATERS: Do you get tired of talking about this incident? We had a report earlier where there were student current Kent State University students who refused to take part in the observances today because they are tired of attending that school, where the Ohio National Guard shot students.

RUFFNER: Well, it is different for me. I haven't been back for any of the other observances, and I came back this year because there are other people here who shared the same experience I did. But as far as talking about Kent State, I have given talks to middle schools, high schools, individual groups, and even college student when I am asked to, and I don't get tired of it. I think, if I can share some truth on what happened here, as an eyewitness, I am glad to do it. WATERS: Let's take a look at some of your eyewitness work, some of the photographs you took, I will talk you through it because we understand you don't have a monitor there. The first photograph is that panoramic view of student apparently just standing around. What was going on?

RUFFNER: This was the one of the students down by, just gathering after the Victory Bell was rung that morning. And as you look at that photograph, you can see Mary Vecchio holding a dog in the front row some place, and then there is Jeffrey Miller...

WATERS: yes.

RUFFNER: ... and up on right-hand side, walking away from the dormitory is a young man in a jacket, carrying some books under his arm, and that is Bill Schroeder. On the other side, underneath a tree, there is an individual standing, and that is Dean Kahler, and those are photographs of those people, the last time they were either alive or wounded.

WATERS: Now we are going to dissolve to the guards who were lined up moving on the crowd. What do you remember about this?

RUFFNER: This is with their backs to me.

WATERS: No, this is -- there are some folks on top of a building nearby and some Ohio guardsmen.

RUFFNER: This is just before or this just at the time the firing took place. I had paralleled the National Guard as they moved up from the practice football field where they had gotten themselves trapped because of the chain-link fence there. And they confronted the students a second time to disperse them by going up in front of Taylor Hall.

I paralleled the movement up there, and I was about 80 feet in front of the guard when then reached the point where you see in that photograph -- and what happened at that instant was that back row of guard there turned almost in unison, some of them went to their knees, and they shot and fired weapons. Moments after that, I grabbed my camera bags on my arms and knelt down because I felt I looked like a target, even though I didn't feel anybody was shooting real bullets.

WATERS: And when the shooting began, did you sense the danger, or did you feel invulnerable through that lense?

RUFFNER: I had been in the Air Force, I had taken -- used M-16s, and I am looking at the guardsmen, and I am, I guess being ignorant is bliss because I didn't have a clue that they would actually shoot anybody or use real rounds of ammunition. I thought they would probably shoot in the air, shoot blanks. But I never believed that they actually shot real rounds.

WATERS: It is very memorable work, Howard Ruffner, we thank you for taking time out to spend some of the it with us today. Howard Ruffner at Kent State. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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