Police turned out in riot gear to try to quell the violence that erupted in the neighborhoods surrounding the Pumpkin Festival in Keene Saturday.
Initial police and fire reports indicate that police and EMTs had to dodge bottles and other debris from the hostile crowd as they tried to tend to the injured.
Stephanie Konopka of Swanzey was visiting the festival with her 12-year-old daughter Saturday afternoon, and said her car was surrounded by a mob of hundreds of college age students while driving down Winchester Street at about 2 p.m.
The crowd nearest her car, proceeded to kick, punch and shake her vehicle, she said. Then they started screaming at her daughter who was sitting in the back seat. She said her daughter started crying hysterically.
"They started yelling directly at my daughter, and when they saw she was crying, they started to do it more," Konopka said. "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."
Police eventually arrived, dispersing the crowd. Konopka said though there were still people in front of her car, she started to pull forward just to get out of there.
According to Southwestern New Hampshire Fire Mutual Aid dispatches and videos posted to social media and local news sites, at about 2 p.m. fights started breaking out among crowds numbering in the hundreds at the intersection of Winchester Street and Butler Court, which is located near Keene State College and just off of Main Street where the festival was happening.
Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard told New England Cable News that at least 30 people were injured at a party on the campus of Keene State College and that 20 went to the hospital with injuries that appeared to be minor.
City Manager John A. McLean told The Keene Sentinel that the rowdy crowds were at one point so "out of control," that there were points during the day that all available manpower had been called. He said those agencies included Keene police and fire, public works, State Police and other area agencies.
Initially a statement from Keene State College put the onus for the incidents on "a large number of out-of-town visitors." It also confirmed that Keene State students were among the injured and that their parents were being notified.
A second statement issued later in the night from President Anne Huot, was more contrite.
"I am saddened and disheartened at the events surrounding this year’s Keene Pumpkin Festival. Despite the concerted efforts of organizers, city officials, police, and Keene State College, there continued to be disruptive behavior at parties in multiple locations around the city, injuries, and property damage," the statement read. "We are mindful that Keene State students played a part in this behavior and we intend to hold those individuals accountable for their actions. We deplore the actions of those whose only purpose was to cause mayhem. And we are grateful for the swift response of law enforcement and first responders who worked to minimize injuries and damage."
The statement went on to say that in the weeks leading up to the festival, school officials had been in talks with students, parents, landlords, and coordinated efforts with local and state authorities, but still were, "unable to influence the outcome of this event that was predetermined a year ago."
Huot is referring to other large brawls on Keene State's campus that resulted in injury and arrests last year.
"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," the statement said. "And we are certain that the negative behavior will continue if nothing changes. This is an issue that we can only solve together and we, at Keene State College, are eager to renew in earnest the conversation that leads to meaningful change."
Gov. Maggie Hassan, who attended the Keene Pumpkin Festival, also released a statement saying, " “State and local public safety officials are on the scene and have been working closely together to defuse the situation. 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."