By JANIS FROELICH firstname.lastname@example.org, The Tampa Tribune
Published: April 30, 2006 Investigation Summary
"My CPA's nephew actually caused the shootings,'' he wrote. "He was an FBI informant and he was carrying a handgun that day. He was taking lots of photos of the protesters that day and when a group of students approached him, he fired over their heads. Then the big volley from the Guard rang out.''
I knew immediately who David was talking about. Terry Norman was the only civilian known to be carrying a gun that day.
David is a solid corporate citizen in Cleveland. He's an executive with Clear Channel, vice president of public affairs. I took him to be a credible source.
I responded I wanted to hear more. He called me two days later when I was climbing through the hull of a World War II vessel docked in Tampa. I couldn't talk so I had to wait through the weekend.
He called Monday and said his longtime accountant worked out of an office on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron and had known David's father. His name is Jim Norman. One day about five years ago, David recalled, Jim went to the back of his office and pulled out a file. He told David to read a 1974 Akron Beacon Journal article. (I later found the title of the story: "Undercover Agents' Role Left Unanswered by Jury.")
Jim said to David, "My nephew caused the shooting.'' He said Terry Norman was toting a camera on campus May 4th but also a gun. He was working as an FBI informant, taking photographs of student protesters. The students figured this out during the protest as he snapped pictures. They hated him. Some rushed him as he was taking photographs. Terry fired a warning shot into the air. Then the Guardsmen volley erupted.
As David was telling me about his conversation with Jim, I thought it was a plausible assessment of what happened. This is what Terry had been telling his relatives through the years. He's given no interview except one published May 5, 1970, by a Beacon Journal columnist, Mickey Porter. He told Porter he never fired the gun.
The testimony of many faculty, students and Guardsmen suggests that a single shot from a small-caliber weapon was heard just before the Guardsmen fired. Some said as many as four shots rang out; others disagreed. In all his statements to investigators, Terry said he didn't fire his gun.
There were many varied accounts of how the shootings happened. The Scranton Commission, the independent panel charged with investigating the causes of the nation's campus unrest, blamed some Kent State students for violent and criminal acts but branded the shootings as "unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable."
What David told me next I found hard to believe. He said , according to Jim, the Beacon Journal had planned to do a series of articles on undercover agents on university campuses, but the FBI flew into Akron and stopped that project. Really? The newspaper that won the Pulitzer Prize for its KSU shooting stories would abandon a hot story? I didn't think so.
Jim said the FBI got Terry a job and whisked him out of Akron.
I start again on people I'd like to talk to. Fred DeBrine, the NBC newsman on campus on May 4th, is high on the list. All of his archive footage is shown over and over, even of Terry handing over his gun. DeBrine is quoted in "Four Dead in Ohio'' as saying that Terry said, ""I had to shoot! They were going to kill me.''
Then DeBrine heard the KSU campus policeman who took the gun away say, "My God! He fired four times! What the hell do we do now?''
I find DeBrine in Florida, retired and about an hour from Tampa.
I call him. DeBrine said he knew Terry as a bright kid and FBI informant. He said Terry then "clammed up and disappeared.'' Retired for six years as a broadcaster, DeBrine has boxes of information but never got around to writing that book.
A 1959 graduate of Michigan State, he worked at eight TV stations over 43 years. He's used to delivering the facts fast.
And he does. I hand him a copy of Terry's first statement, given to the KSU police.
DeBrine, 68, put on his reading glasses and noted that information like this wasn't available when he was a reporter.
Then he answered a question for me. Yes, he did testify before a federal grand jury in 1972. He left the NBC Cleveland affiliate in 1973.
He read Terry's statement and said, "This differs a little bit from what he told me. Some of it is pretty correct though.''
DeBrine said it was very common for law enforcement to employ students and others to pose as members of the press back then. Norman had a fake press pass issued by the KSU police, giving him access to the front line of demonstrations.
"Terry told me how this worked,'' said DeBrine. The FBI and other agencies would give Norman a roll of film and then pay him per picture for photographs of demonstrators the agency didn't have in its file. The price per photograph was as low as $1, Terry told him.
"This way the FBI would have a dossier of those troublemakers on and off campus in all parts of the country,'' said DeBrine.
Once in awhile, since Terry lived in Akron near DeBrine's NBC bureau, the student would grab a ride to campus. "I didn't know he had a gun,'' said DeBrine.
What happened on May 4, DeBrine retold with precision. He and his crew, cameraman Jorge Gomez, who recently died in Miami, and soundman Joe Butano didn't follow the National Guard when troops went across the commons and began to chase students over the ridge beyond Blanket Hill. DeBrine said they feared their camera equipment looked too much like weapons. The Guard then circled back and stood on a crest in front of a pagoda.
"We heard what sounded like shots,'' he said. Afterward, the Guard retreated down the hill. Within a short time, Harold Reid, a black professor with a briefcase, was chasing a student and yelling, "Stop that man!''
Here's where the story gets interesting,'' said DeBrine.
DeBrine said he was standing next to the man Reid ushered over to the police. It was Terry who handed his gun to KSU police Officer Harold Rice, who then passed the gun to KSU Detective Tom Kelley.
Kelley yelled, "My God! He fired it four times. What the hell do we do now?"
Shaking, Terry said, "I had to shoot. They were trying to kill me.''
Just then an ambulance siren blared and word spread that students had been shot.
The police took Terry away and DeBrine joined his news crew, who raced off to the hill to eventually view the carnage.
DeBrine said Kelley later denied that he said Terry had fired his gun.
The next day, DeBrine saw Terry. "I ask him, 'Terry what the devil happened?' ''
He said the protesters were trying to kill him. Then Terry said, "I waved my gun at them and then fired a couple shots into the air." Terry wouldn't go on camera for DeBrine.
Terry was positioned in a grove of pine trees, which DeBrine said explained why the National Guard fired toward the parking lot. The trees are near the parking lot, downhill from the pagoda.
"All of a sudden the Guard heard shots from that direction. They thought they were being fired upon,'' DeBrine said.
"The grove of pine trees. That's where Terry said he was. The whole darn thing was an accident. There was nothing deliberate about it. Terry thought he was protecting himself.''
DeBrine worked this angle as a newsman but without Terry going on camera and amid so much conflicting information, he could never fully report what he knew. A National Guardsman told him, "What happened at Kent State isn't what you hear.'' But what he was hearing was a big coverup, he said.
"The door was shut on everything,'' he said, including Terry who "clammed up and disappeared.''
DeBrine said Terry was obviously scared. "I don't blame him but I don't feel sorry for him."
Was Terry taken advantage of by the FBI? "Possibly,'' said DeBrine.
To work a story you go to the top or bottom for the best information. I go to retired Lt. Col. Charles Fassinger, commander of the National Guard troops. He was the highest ranking officer in the chain of command on Blanket Hill on May 4.
"Physically, I was at the spot of the shootings,'' the 75-year-old Fassinger said. What happened never seems to get answered, he said, because people didn't tell the exact same story after the shootings.
"I heard what I thought was a shot,'' he said. "Then there was a pause followed by the Guardsmen shooting.''
He said he feels remorse but not guilt because he believes the Guardsmen's lives were in danger. He only heard about Terry Norman later.
"There was some evidence afterward that weapons other than military ones had been fired,'' he said.
I tell him where Terry was standing, according to newsman DeBrine. "That would be consistent,'' he said
There was no order to shoot planned in advance, he said. "I was the commander. I would have issued it."
He said there was also no last minute order to shoot.
"Absolutely not. The noise level and gas masks would have made that tough to hear."