Students Help Clean Up After Riots at Keene Pumpkin Festival

Riot crews were out in full force twice Saturday during the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire Saturday; Keene State College's president said the students involved will be held accountable.

Keene State College students are trying to clean up their campus after the annual pumpkin festival in the New Hampshire city turned into mayhem Saturday.

Several students who were outside the school Sunday morning told NECN they feel terribly about the distrubances at the Keene Pumpkin Festival.

"We're out here trying to fix the Keene State name," said senior Lauren Faulkner.

"I think it's gone a little too far, and a lot of people are really upset with us this year," said junior Tyler Bissaillon.

The clash between crowds and law enforcement flared up twice Saturday. At least 30 people were injured and around 12 people were arrested in the afternoon, when a party near the college got out of control.

Just before 10 p.m., the riots rekindled when fires were lit and police unloaded tear gas into another crowd that gathered.

"Like most New Hampshire citizens, I am outraged by the irresponsible, terrible actions that marred a New Hampshire tradition," said Gov. Maggie Hassan in a statement Sunday. "I am very grateful that there weren't more injuries, and we must be vigilant as a state to review and learn from the sad destruction that escalated in Keene."

Cheshire Medical Center confirmed Sunday that it saw 26 patients after the riots on Saturday. Twenty-one of the patients were seen after the afternoon incident while five others were seen in the evening.

None of those patients were admitted to the hospital.

Sunday, Keene State College President Anne Huot reiterated that the students involved would be held responsible, as she said Saturday night.

"Regretfuly, Keene endured a great deal over this weekend. We care deeply about the citizens of Keene and our students, and we lament the impact of inexcusable behaviors on our city," said Huot in a statement. "We are actively working to identify the individuals who participated in unlawful behavior."

Huot added that the damage is being repaired and officials are working to "find long-term solutions."

Witnesses described the scene as a war zone, saying people flipped cars, tore down lamp posts, lit fires, threw bottles and cans, smashed windows, ripped traffic signs out of the ground and clashed with police in full riot gear.

Those police used tear gas, K-9's and tasers to try and control the crowds.

State police said that troopers and citizens were struck by objects, but that none of the injuries were serious.

The Keene Pumpkin Festival is said to draw more than 60,000 people annually. Participants in the event try to set a world record for the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place.

Bud Windsor, the head of the grounds crew at Keene State College, says he is disappointed to see the longstanding tradition turn into such mayhem.

"This does not represent what Keene State is all about," said Windsor.

Keene City Manager John MacLean said that 42 people were arrested at the festival Friday night, but he was not sure how many arrests were made Saturday. In past years, MacLean said, approximately 100-125 people were arrested.

MacLean does not believe anyone had to stay in a hospital overnight.

One person was burned by a firecracker, according to MacLean. That person's condition was unknown.

Windsor, who says he has never seen anything like this in 21 years, explained that it could take up to a week to clean up. He added that his priority is the blue emergency poles on campus that kids ripped out of the ground.

"People were getting, just, absolutely beaten down on the ground, dragged apart," said visitor Jeremiah Wilton. "Everybody was just out of control on both ends. Everyone was furious, and then it just kept escalating and escalating and escalating."

MacLean tells NECN that police showed "tremendous restraint" and never became a part of the problem.

Nashua Police was called in to assist Keene Police Saturday night. Their Special Response Team has been activated.

Most of the injuries during the day were caused by people getting hit by objects, including bottles.

Huot said the outcome of the event "was predetermined a year ago," and she expects that promotion of Keene and the Pumpkin Festival as a destination for "raucous behavior" will only increase unless meaningful changes are made.

“It’s just like a rush," 18-year-old Steven French told the Keene Sentinel on Saturday night. "You’re revolting from the cops. It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”

The city, which already had four times the ordinary number of first responders on for the event, had to call in even more reinforcements.

"We have several resources here, but yes, it was well beyond a normal response," said Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard.

Bystanders describe the chaos as police tried to control the unruly crowd.

"They just started walking on the street, with, like, mace, tear gas and these rubber bullets," said one witness.

"I think this year, it was not as bad as last year, but I think the police are being much more aggressive," said another. "I think the pepper spray was a little much - rubber bullets were a little much.

Howard says officials are looking out for the safety of the community and will remain in the area all night.

According to the school, the large number of visitors to the Pumpkin Festival contributed to the incident.

"One large assembly on Winchester Street drew multiple responses from Keene Police on Saturday afternoon. The college is not able to report on injuries or arrests," said Keene State College in a statement. "These incidents do involve Keene State students, and also visitors to Keene."

The school added that it is communicating with current students and their parents.

Lillian Savage brought her kids to the Pumpkin Festival on Saturday.

"All you could see was smoke, lots of screaming, lots of drunken rage really," she said. "I have been coming here since I was a kid and I loved it and now this. I will never come back - ever."

At this point, there are no official reports of any serious injuries in Saturday's riots.

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