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Ex-Guardsman Larry Shafer: Never heard command to fire

David O"Brien
May 2, 2007

By Dave O"Brien

Record-Courier staff writer

Joseph Lewis leaned on a cane Tuesday as he spoke with reporters about being wounded May 4, 0 by two bullets fired by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University students.

The cane was not due to his wounds -- Lewis was struck in the abdomen and the leg -- but because of a recent hip replacement to treat arthritis he said "may or may not be" a result of his wounding.

Lewis returned to Kent to participate in Alan Canfora"s announcement that he has found new audio evidence of an order by someone in the guard to fire on the students, who were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Canfora, who was shot in the wrist, found the alleged order on an audiotape he found while conducting research on his memoir.

"I always felt the decision was made, on orders, to fire at the top of the hill" next to Taylor Hall where the guardsmen turned and fired 67 shots, Lewis said, calling the shootings "a Nixon administration attempt to stop dissent in America."

One of nine students wounded that day, Lewis admitted he was making an obscene gesture at guardsmen when shots rang out. Four other students were killed by gunfire.

Now 55 and living in Oregon, to this day Lewis believes it was guardsman Larry Shafer who shot him that day 37 years ago.

Shafer went on to become a Ravenna firefighter, rising to the rank of chief, before he retired. He now is a Ravenna councilman.

Shafer said Tuesday he was unaware of any such tapes existing.

"I never heard any command to fire. That"s all I can say on that. That"s not to say there may not have been, but with all the racket and noise, I don"t know how anyone could have heard anything that day," he said,

"Right here. Get set. Point. Fire," the commands Canfora said can be heard on the tape, are not what guard officers would have said under the circumstances, Shafer added.

"That wouldn"t have been the appropriate vernacular anyhow. They wouldn"t have said "point,"" he said. "I don"t know if what (Canfora) has is what he says he has or not. I have no idea."

Shafer also said while he fired his weapon May 4, 0, he does not believe he is the guardsman who shot Lewis.

"The ballistics didn"t prove anything. (Lewis) was closest to me, I saw him fall. I understand there were several others close to me that fired too. I don"t know who hit who," he said.

Despite Shafer"s assertions that he does not know if his shots hit anyone, Lewis still believes it was Shafer who fired at least one of the bullets that struck him. He said Tuesday he forgives Shafer for his actions.

"I"ve not spoken with him (Shafer) because last time he spoke he said he was afraid for his life and his family, that something would happen to them. He and I know that"s not true," Lewis said. "I send my best wishes to him."

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