KEENE, N.H. (CBS/AP) — Riotous behavior during Keene’s Pumpkin Festival on Saturday could have led to serious injuries or even deaths, public safety officials said Monday.
Police and local officials in Keene answered questions at an afternoon news conference following violent parties near the New Hampshire city’s annual pumpkin festival that led to destruction, 84 arrests and multiple injuries over the weekend.
“The potential for someone being seriously injured or killed was there,” New Hampshire State Police Col. Robert Quinn said.
Quinn said full liquor bottles, billiard balls and large rocks were thrown at police by unruly crowds of students.
“The damage was disturbing, the conduct was disturbing,” Quinn said, adding that the results could have been much worse. “I don’t think it could’ve ended any better than it did that evening.”
The parties around Keene State College coincided with the Keene Pumpkin Festival, at which 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 the crowds.
It’s not clear what will happen with the long-running festival next year.
“It is far too early to determine what the future of the Pumpkin Festival is going to be,” Keene Mayor Kendall Lane said. “This was a horrible event that took place.”
Officials are also looking at the role that social media played in attracting people from out of town to the weekend event.
“I think social media is really the biggest new thing that we have to deal with,” WBZ-TV security analyst and former Boston Police Chief Ed Davis said. “We’ve seen people from quite a distance away traveling to be a part of this event.”
Davis said authorities appeared to deal with the crowds appropriately.
“I think that the police response appeared to be very measured,” Davis said. “The question is whether the preparation was appropriate.”
Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola said public safety officials believed they had a good plan in place heading into the weekend.
“I think unfortunately we were caught by surprise when things started earlier than when we expected,” Meola said. “We thought we had it well in hand, to be quite honest, and we fell a little short.”
Keene State College President Anne Huot said the school is working with police to find those responsible for damage, and expulsion is on the table.
“We have already identified some people from photographs,” Huot said. “They will be appropriately sanctioned.”
Students said they were upset by the behavior of some of their peers.
“When you start pulling street signs up and start fires, it’s just not fun,” Keene State junior Nicki Galar said.
Fingers were also pointed at out-of-town partygoers. Jennifer Wilson
“It’s sad that people would come to our campus and do the things that they did,” Keene State junior Jennifer Wilson said. “I think everyone’s just really embarrassed.”
College students cleaned up the area Sunday.
Gov. Maggie Hassan called on the state’s colleges and universities to “take swift action to hold students involved accountable.”
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