'That Picture Hijacked My Life'

Mary Ann Vecchio, the girl in famous Kent State photo, reflects 50 years later
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2021 9:55 AM CDT
Updated Apr 24, 2021 2:30 PM CDT
'That Picture Hijacked My Life'
May 4, 1970: Mary Ann Vecchio cries out as she kneels next to the body of Kent State student Jeffrey Miller. National Guardsmen killed four when they fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the US bombing of Cambodia.   (AP Photo/John Filo)

You've seen the photo—a young woman kneeling over the body of Kent State student Jeffrey Miller, after he and three other students were fatally shot by National Guard troops on May 4, 1970. What may come as a surprise is that the young woman in the photo was only 14 at the time. Her name is Mary Ann Vecchio, and she gives a rare interview to Patricia McCormick for a profile in the Washington Post. In regard to the photo, Vecchio—who'd left her Florida home earlier that year and was hitchhiking across the country—remembers talking to Miller moments before the shots rang out. As she knelt over his body, she remembers crying, "Doesn't anyone see what just happened here?" and "Why is no one helping him?" And to the soldiers who approached with their guns drawn, "Why did you do this?"

The photo by John Filo would become "one of the most important images of the 20th century," writes McCormick, one that in her view helped end the Vietnam War. She also interviews Filo for the piece. Of that moment: "I knew the boy was dead, but I could tell she didn't know," he says of Vecchio. "I could see something building in her, and all of a sudden she lets out this scream and I shoot." Vecchio left the scene moments later and made her way to Indianapolis over the following days. She might have stayed anonymous had not an Indianapolis Star reporter told authorities where she was, a move that got her sent to a juvenile detention facility and made her world-famous for a time—as well as the object of hatred in some quarters. She now lives a quiet life in Florida. "That picture hijacked my life," she says. "And 50 years later, I still haven't really moved on." Read the full piece. (More Kent State stories.)

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