An annual pumpkin festival near Keene State College in New Hampshire devolved into chaos on Saturday with police firing what appeared to be tear gas at students who were reportedly throwing bottles, rocks and other objects.
Witnesses told the Boston Globe that students were also setting things on fire, uprooting street signs and overturned at least one car. Police then reportedly responded with riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets.
According to officials, 26 students with minor injuries visited Cheshire Medical Center, near the school, as a result of the melee. The majority of patients – 21 – were seen in the afternoon while the other five came to the hospital in the evening. About a dozen students were arrested, according to authorities.
“There were about 4,000 kids in this backyard, and it almost felt like a war zone,” Keene State sophomore Ellery Murray told the Globe. “People were just throwing everything they could find — rocks, skateboards, buckets, pumpkins.”
“People just got too drunk,” Murray added.
Video of the incident shows students running away from police in riot gear who appear to be firing pepper spray and tear gas. In footage, uploaded on YouTube by Alex Moushey, one student is shown being thrown to the ground and arrested.
Some students expressed concern that the response may have gone too far. “I think the pepper spray was a little much – rubber bullets were a little much,” one witness told New England Cable News. ”I think the police are being much more aggressive,” said another.
Last night’s events come in the wake of months of intense scrutiny nationwide over a variety of police practices, largely sparked by the uproar over the police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson and the controversial police response that met the ensuing protests.
Ann Huot, president of Keene State College, said in a statement to NBC News that she was “saddened and disheartened” by the events that transpired and that the school is reviewing images, video, and social media postings to help identify individuals who took part in the violence.
“The most serious offenders will face interim suspension, followed by conduct action up to, and including, expulsion,” she said, adding the “outrageous behavior” by some students does not represent the vast majority who attend the school.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan called the incident “serious” in an interview with WMUR-TV. “Certainly, when you have a situation of a large crowd with both bonfires and projectiles being thrown, it’s important that law enforcement be in protective gear so that we can minimize injuries to them so that they can minimize injuries in the crowd — and that certainly was the approach they took,” she said.
The Keene Pumpkin Festival has been going on for over 20 years and is a community event in which thousands come out and try to amass the largest number of carved and lit pumpkins in one place.