On May 4, 1970 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio, a runaway from Opa-Locka, Fla., wandered onto the campus of Kent State University where student protests over Vietnam were going on. “I was there because it was there, because it was happening.” After the National Guard killed four students, the photograph of Mary kneeling beside a boy’s body was published around the world, and her anguish became the symbol of the Kent State tragedy.
“It really rocked me,” Vecchio recalls. “I was riding in a car in Indianapolis and heard my name come over the radio.” Everyone was looking for the girl who saw it all and vanished. “A newspaper guy found me and said he’d get me a plane ticket to California if I’d talk to him. I said okay, and then the FBI walked in.” She was sent home but ran away again.
One of six children in a strict family, Vecchio bummed around Mexico, Canada and California. She worked as a waitress and as a cook on a Caribbean freighter. In 1973 she was arrested in Miami for prostitution and fined $50.
She was constantly reminded of Kent State. Canadian TV tracked her down for a documentary and she was interviewed on 60 Minutes. Now Mary Ann may be settling down. She is engaged to a security guard, Bif Lerner, 21, and has been taken in by his family. She has enrolled in a community college to earn a high school diploma (she dropped out in the 10th grade). “I’m not interested in politics or changing the world,” she says. “I was young. People were trying to use me. They called me a Communist. I’ve learned a lot from what I’ve done.” Recently she was approached about a TV series based on her experiences. “But I’m not rushing into anything. I’d like to make some money—just enough to build a little house in the country. And I’d like to forget about Kent State.”
Mary Ann Vecchio is 21 years old.