1995 Retrospective

Matt Bai, "25 Years after Kent State, photographer, subject finally meet," Boston Globe, 24 April 1995, Sec. B, Pg. 4.

John Filo met Mary Ann Vecchio Gillum for the first time yesterday, and he had no trouble recognizing her.

"You haven't changed," he quietly told the woman with the long black hair and oval face, cameras whirring all around them.

"Everyone says that," she said, then burst into tears a moment later and embraced him.

Their paths crossed 25 years ago - on May 4, 1970, to be exact - in the moments after National Guardsmen shot four student protesters on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Filo was a student photographer looking for a good shot. Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway, fell to her knees and screamed when she saw the body of Jeffrey Miller on the ground.

The result was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph that burned the image of Kent State deep into the American consciousness and changed two lives forever.

"I've eluded everybody, or I tried," said Vecchio, whose appearance at an Emerson College conference on the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State marked her first public discussion of the event, aside from recent television interviews.

"It was such a horrific event. I felt guilty and shamed and hurt and I felt bad for the parents."

After the picture appeared across the country, Vecchio's father recognized her. The FBI caught up with her in Indianapolis and took her back to her home in Miami. There, she said, she was harassed by many, including the state's governor, who labeled her a dangerous radical.

After years of "rocky times," which she is reluctant to discuss in detail, Vecchio married her current husband, Joe. Now 39, she lives in Las Vegas, where she is a cashier at a casino.

Vecchio said she thought about meeting Filo many times, but shied away from it until now. "I saw his name on the side of the picture, and I wondered how he was dealing," she said.

Filo, now a deputy photo editor at Newsweek magazine, recalled that he had missed two days of protests because he was away and was heartened to learn there would be a rally that Monday.

He wanted to shoot "one good picture," he said, and felt he had it when he captured the image of a protester waving a lone black flag at Guard troops. Moments later, Filo saw a guardsman take aim at him, he said, but he thought the guns were carrying blanks.

When shots rang out, he saw a bullet from that guardsman's gun ricochet off a metal statue a few feet away.

"Everyone was on the ground. I was the only fool still standing on the sidewalk," he recalled. "I walked away. Then I stopped myself and said, 'You want to be a photographer, you want to be a journalist, it's time to start working.' "

Turning around, he watched Vecchio for a few moments. When she screamed, he clicked the shutter almost as a physical reaction, he said.

Photo: In a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by John Filo from 1970, Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels next to a student's body at Kent State University in Ohio. National Guardsmen had fired into a crowd, killing four. (Photograph by The Associated Press)

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