CONCORD, N.H. (CBS/AP) — Keene State College students quickly cleaned up from a chaotic weekend Sunday after violent parties near the city’s annual pumpkin festival led to destruction, dozens of arrests and multiple injuries.
The parties around the school coincided with the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival, where the community tries to set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas as they tried to control crowds.
Keene State College President Anne Huot said the school is reviewing media coverage and images of students’ behavior and offenders could be suspended or even expelled.
“To be clear, Keene State College does not tolerate the outrageous behavior that occurred over the weekend,” Huot said. “Also, understand that it does not represent a great many of the students who attend this college.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement Sunday night, “Like most New Hampshire citizens, I am outraged by the irresponsible, terrible actions that marred a a New Hampshire tradition.”
She called on the state’s colleges and universities to “take swift action to hold students involved accountable.”
Mallory Pearce, a sophomore and vice president of the student body, said she saw a car flipped over in a parking lot, another car being destroyed and people being pepper-sprayed.
“It got way out of hand. Everyone I talked to said, ‘I feel unsafe, I’m going home.’ They didn’t want to be part of the riot, and they couldn’t do anything to solve it,” she said. “I honestly did not feel safe.”
While Pearce was extremely disappointed in the violence, she said her faith was restored when enough volunteers showed up Sunday morning to clean up the campus that they finished their work in less than an hour.
“We all recognize that we made a mistake and we’re going to better next year,” she said. “We’re not going to let this happen again.”
On Sunday, student Jake Paster and friends were cleaning up and blamed the chaos on outsiders and just a few Keene State students.
“When you have students drinking and things like that, things like that are going to happen, right? But I mean this just got way too out of control,” he said.
Local residents also agreed with that assessment, telling WBZ-TV that the problem isn’t necessary the kids on campus, but instead the ones from out of town who come in for just this weekend.
“There’s very few kids from Keene State that got arrested,” said resident Tom Lilly. “They’re all from out of town.”
Many students said police used remarkable restraint.
The response was “too little,” one student told WBZ-TV’s Bill Shields.
Keene police did not have a final count of arrests Sunday, but the department’s police log shows officers responded to 235 calls between 2:30 a.m. Friday and 3:30 a.m. Sunday and made at least 49 arrests. Not all were part of the disturbances, but at least 14 on Saturday and early Sunday appeared related to the unruly behavior. Most involved disorderly conduct or alcohol-related offenses.
Video showed a crowd overturning a car, people running from tear gas clouds, street signs being torn down and fires burning in the streets. Police also investigated reports of people throwing glass bottles and fireworks, jumping off a roof and banging on cars.
One group of young people threatened to beat up an elderly man, and another resident heard someone “threatening to kill officers,” according to the police log. At least 30 people were injured near the school before evening Saturday, and 20 of them were taken to hospitals, Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard told New England Cable News.
Student Body President Bobby Graham said he was disgusted by the destruction he saw, and said he believes most of the perpetrators were not Keene State students.
“We are devoted to our community and very much engaged with our community,” he said.
Brian Mazzola, a junior, said most of the students in his apartment building decided to stay inside Saturday night after hearing about the brewing trouble.
“It was kind of scary,” he said. “We could hear the helicopters circling around telling people to go inside.”
He believes police were too aggressive in shutting down parties early in the weekend, saying that forced “a mob of drunk kids on the street” with nowhere to go. But he said the police response once things turned violent was absolutely appropriate.
Mazzola, too, was heartened by the cleanup effort Sunday morning.
“We take pride in our school,” he said. “This isn’t an accurate representation Keene students or the institution.”
College officials provided few specifics on the melee but said both Keene State students and out-of-town visitors were involved.
Ruth Sterling, whose company manages the festival, said the violence did not spill over into what she called “a truly beautiful event.”
The parties around the school coincided with the annual festival in which the community tries to set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place.
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