KEENE, N.H. — Several hundred students trooped across Keene State College campus Sunday morning carrying bags, buckets, and brooms in response to a Facebook post calling for volunteers to restore order after a night of chaos.
“It’s part of my job as a student to help clean up whatever they created,” said freshman Skylar Sinde, 18, as he swept broken glass on Winchester Street, the site of Saturday’s violent confrontation just blocks from the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival.
Clad in red Keene State sweat shirts and caps, the crew moved in hours after hordes of young people taunted and threw bottles at police in riot gear, tearing across campus in a wave of vandalism that included overturning at least one car, smashing vehicle windows, slashing tires, tearing lampposts from their moorings, and flipping Dumpsters.
Police responded with crowd-control measures that included tear gas, Tasers, and firing a weapon that appeared to shoot rubber bullets or pepper pellets into the crowd.
Keene police declined to answer questions on Sunday about their tactics and about the number of injuries and arrests that took place Saturday, saying the city would issue a statement about the violence on Monday.
The Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene saw about 26 patients Saturday who appeared to have been hurt during the fracas, according to spokesman Peter Malloy. All were treated for minor injuries and discharged, he said.
The patients had lacerations and various levels of alcohol intoxication, Malloy said.
“This event does precipitate an increased amount of activity into the emergency room,” Malloy said. The medical center prepares for more activity on Pumpkin Festival weekend each year, he added, as the event “comes close to doubling the population, and we react as necessary.”
Anne Huot, Keene State College president, released two statements Sunday condemning the “inexcusable behavior” of the vandals and bottle-throwers.
She said that after reviewing photos and videos, school officials may expel Keene State students whose actions were deemed most serious.
“To be clear, Keene State College does not tolerate the outrageous behavior that occurred over the weekend,” she said.
The violence appeared to have started at a home on Blake Street, just off campus, according to Keene City Councilor James P. Duffy.
Police were monitoring a particularly large party there Saturday afternoon when attendees began hurling bottles and other objects, hitting at least one person on the head and causing a laceration that led police to move in, Duffy said.
Officers were “clearly outnumbered” throughout the riots, said Duffy, who credited police with showing restraint when faced with provocation.
Keene police have a BearCat armored vehicle, and “students were standing in the street chanting, ‘Bring out the BearCat,’ ” Duffy said.
Large parties have become frequent in the small city, taking place almost every weekend Keene State is in session, Duffy said. He said this has contributed to a “spring break-type atmosphere.”
“It was no secret that police were going to take a more proactive approach this year,” Duffy said.
However, Duffy said that though police were prepared for this year’s Pumpkin Festival, the size and unruliness of the crowd Saturday was unprecedented.
“This is what happens when there’s a lot of pent-up energy, drugs, and alcohol,” Duffy said.
The weekend riot bore similarities to last March’s Blarney Blowout at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where police used aggressive tactics in dealing with an out-of-control off-campus party.
Officers in Amherst wore riot gear and shot pepper spray and sting balls at revelers, some of whom returned volleys of rocks and bottles.
On Blake Street Sunday morning, sophomore Ally McNamee was among a group of students using brooms, dustpans, snow shovels, and gloved hands to clean up the broken glass covering the roadway.
McNamee and other volunteers expressed disgust with those responsible for the damage.
“They’re so disrespectful,” the 19-year-old said. “It’s just so infuriating . . . especially because of the amount of people that you would ask, ‘Do you go here?’ and they would say, ‘No,’ and then you’re just like, ‘Would you leave?’ ”
McNamee said she had called police to report several cases of vandalism she witnessed.
Donna Mackey, 63, grew up on Blake Street and still has family living nearby. She now lives in nearby Roxbury, N.H., but returned on Sunday to see the damage. Mackey said she had been baffled at home Saturday night by news reports of riots at the college.
“They say they’re rioting, and I think, ‘Against what?’ ” she said.
Several students said most of the vandals appeared not to be enrolled at Keene State, which has an undergraduate enrollment of about 4,800.
The students and other Keene residents said that in recent years the Pumpkin Festival has attracted a large group of young people from other local colleges and elsewhere who come to the city for the parties that occur during the festival weekend.
Declan MacInnis, 18, a first time festival-goer who attends Plymouth State University, said he had observed but not participated in the damage.
“It’s kind of sad how it got to that point,” MacInnis said. “It’s cool that people can come here and all celebrate together. . . . If we’re going to come from different schools, we should keep it peaceful.”
In a parking lot where much of the vandalism occurred, a student approached Terry Blatti, and told her,“I just want to formally apologize for what happened.”
Blatti, a Salisbury, Mass., resident who had come to enjoy the festival with her stepdaughter, was surveying the damage to her new Nissan Frontier, which had both driver’s side tires slashed, as well as dents and muddy footprints on the hood and roof.
Blatti, 56, said she wasn’t angry, “just disappointed, I guess.” She did not blame Keene State or its students.
“It wasn’t all college students,” she said. “It was such an influx of people that were here yesterday. It’s just that riot mentality.”