KENT, Ohio, May 1 An audio recording of the shootings 37 years ago at Kent State University includes the voices of Ohio National Guard leaders ordering troops to fire into a crowd of students, according to a man wounded in the shootings, who obtained a copy of the recording.
If confirmed as authentic, the recording could solve the central mystery of the shootings on May 4, 1970, which became a defining moment in the protests against the Vietnam War.
Alan Canfora, who was shot in the right wrist, played a copy of the recording at a news conference here on Tuesday.
Through grainy static and the high-pitched calls of protesters, it was possible to faintly hear someone shout “Point!” Mr. Canfora said the full command is recorded on the tape, with multiple voices shouting “Right here!” “Get Set!” Point!” and “Fire!” Those words, however, were difficult to discern when he played the recording. A 13-second volley of gunfire follows, during which four students were killed and nine were wounded.
“The evidence speaks for itself,” Mr. Canfora said. “The voices are right there, very clear. There was an order to fire.”
The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, which published its final report on the shootings in September 1970, never addressed whether commanders ordered troops to fire, saying only that the events immediately before the shooting “are in bitter dispute.” Based on the newly available recording, Mr. Canfora said he would call on Congress, the Justice Department and Ohio’s attorney general, Marc Dann, to open new investigations into the shootings.
James Sims, a spokesman for the Ohio National Guard, declined to comment.
The audiotape of the shooting was recorded on a reel-to-reel machine by Terry Strubbe, a Kent State student whose dorm room overlooked the demonstrations, said Joe Bendo, Mr. Strubbe’s friend and spokesman. Mr. Strubbe declined to comment.
The tape originally was reviewed by the Justice Department, which contracted with the acoustics analysis firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman, now called BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., to remove static and digitally enhance parts of the tape. James Barger, the scientist who analyzed the tape more than 30 years ago, still works at BBN. Through a spokeswoman, he said that no National Guard voices were audible on the tape.
The original tape sits in a safe deposit box near Kent, where it has been locked for over 30 years, Mr. Bendo said.
The copy obtained by Mr. Canfora came from the Yale University Library, which received it in 1989 as part of a large donation of materials from David E. Engdahl, a lawyer who represented the shooting victims in a civil lawsuit in the late 1970s. Mr. Canfora discovered the tape in the Yale archives a few months ago, he said, while researching a book.
Mr. Canfora, 58, works for the Summit County, Ohio, Board of Elections. He said he spends much of his free time teaching students about the Kent State shootings as director of the Kent May 4 Center, a nonprofit group that operates an informational Web site and organizes annual ceremonies to commemorate the shootings.
Many people who witnessed the shootings have said they believe they were ordered by National Guard commanders.
After four days of occasionally violent protests against President Richard M. Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, thousands of students gathered on the Commons at Kent State for a noon rally. Gen. Robert Canterbury of the Ohio National Guard ordered the students to disperse. When they refused, General Canterbury directed his troops to advance on the crowd with M-1 rifles locked and loaded, bayonets fixed.
Soon the troops found themselves trapped by fences on an athletic field. As they retreated to the top of the hill, a number of soldiers on the right flank turned and fired into the crowd.
“It was very precise. They all turned in unison,” said Jerry M. Lewis, professor emeritus of sociology, who witnessed the shooting, wrote a book and taught a class on the events. “That’s why we’ve argued for years that there was an order or a signal to fire.”
Of Mr. Canfora, whom he has known for more than three decades, Mr. Lewis said, “He’s an incredibly thorough researcher. However, his interpretation tends to be conspiratorial.”