Keene State Students May Be Expelled After Saturday Riots

Four people danced atop an overturned car in Keene, N.H.
Four people danced atop an overturned car in Keene, N.H. –Jeremy Fox / Boston Globe Correspondent

Students who participated in riots near the Keene State College campus Saturday night could face serious consequences, including expulsion for the worst offenders, according to a statement from the college president.

Four people danced atop an overturned car in Keene, N.H.

“Keene State College does not tolerate the outrageous behavior that occurred over the weekend,’’ president Ann Huot wrote. “Also, understand that it does not represent a great many of the students who attend this college. I am proud of the positive contributions that many of our students, faculty and staff offered to the community this weekend.’’

Huot said school officials will “continue to work closely with the city to help repair damage and find long-term solutions,’’ and that investigators are pouring over social media to identify those engaged in criminal behavior.

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“The most serious offenders will face interim suspension, followed by conduct action up to, and including, expulsion,’’ she wrote.

The chaos began Saturday afternoon, when several people were injured by thrown bottles near the school’s 1 Butler Court during a party thrown to celebrate the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival. As night fell, the crowds spread across town. Rioters were seen on a live video stream vandalizing and flipping over several parked cars.

Witnesses said police deployed tear gas and pepper spray to disperse large crowds. At least 14 were arrested. The Associated Press reports that 97 calls for service were placed to the department between 2 a.m. Saturday and 3:30 a.m. Sunday.

A student injured by a thrown bottle during a large party at Keene State Saturday. —@Dels_Kevinade

Authorities were heard over loudspeakers advising those in the crowd to leave immediately.

Keene Police Chief Mark Howard told NECN that at least 30 people were injured Saturday afternoon, with 20 taken to nearby hospitals with minor injuries. At least one officer was reportedly evaluated with minor injuries.

An earlier statement from a school spokesperson acknowledged that the partiers included both students and visitors to the campus, adding that some incidents took place off-campus. She did not immediately reply to Boston.com’s request for comment.

“Over the past few days, a large number of out-of-town visitors have come to Keene for the Keene Pumpkin Festival. Subsequently, during the course of the evening on Friday, off-campus gatherings associated with the Keene Pumpkin Festival escalated at a number of locations around the city,’’ Kelly Ricaurte wrote in a statement provided to the Boston Globe.

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“Incidents in the city, not on Keene State’s campus, subsided overnight but began to increase again by mid-afternoon on Saturday. One large assembly on Winchester Street drew multiple responses from Keene Police on Saturday afternoon.’’

One woman told NHPR that her car was surrounded by a mob of students who began to kick and shake the vehicle while driving down Winchester Street.

“They started yelling directly at my daughter, and when they saw she was crying, they started to do it more,’’ Stephanie Konopka told the station. “They put their faces in the window and made these horrible faces and screamed these terrible things at her. And I was helpless, I couldn’t get to her. I was just trapped in the car. I couldn’t open the door, I couldn’t move the car. And then they started taking off their shirts and pushing themselves into the windows. At that point she was just beyond consoling.’’

“We are mindful that Keene State students played a part in this behavior and we intend to hold those individuals accountable for their actions,’’ Huot wrote in an earlier statement Saturday. “We deplore the actions of those whose only purpose was to cause mayhem…We can expect that the promotion by individuals and organizations of Keene and the Pumpkin Festival as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior, will only increase. And we are certain that the negative behavior will continue if nothing changes.’’

“State and local public safety officials are on the scene and have been working closely together to defuse the situation,’’ Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement. “I was in Keene this afternoon and met with our public safety officials and visited the medical tent and other volunteers. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide any assistance necessary to Keene.’’

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Keene’s police department was lampooned on both the Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver (starts at 7:18) after citing the town’s annual Pumpkin Fest as one reason it needed a surplus $286,000 armored vehicle from the Pentagon.

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