N.H. police to seek suspects in Keene Pumpkin Festival disturbance
KEENE, N.H. – The police department in Keene, New Hampshire, is setting up a task force to identify and prosecute people who caused a long-running disturbance Saturday and Sunday at the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival, the Keene city government said in Monday a press release.
The fire department treated an estimated 30 people for injuries, mostly “the result of blunt force trauma and lacerations from being struck by items that were thrown within the crowd,” the city said.
“It is the intent of the [police] department to identify and prosecute those who committed criminal acts, and to refer those incidents of poor behavior to the appropriate educational institution where they attend for judicial conduct review,” the press release said.
CNN affiliate WCVB reported the police will look at social media in an attempt to identify suspects.
Police in riot gear used tear gas and pepper spray to to disperse the rowdy crowd.
Crowds were so hostile that firefighters made no attempt to put out a fire set in the middle of the street that threatened no property, the press release stated.
The disturbance occurred near Keene State College and eventually spilled onto the campus, the press release said.
People shouted expletives at police, started fires in the road, pulled down a street sign and apparently tried to flip over a Subaru, the Keene Sentinel said.
Authorities weren’t able to provide exact figures, but CNN affiliates reported dozens of arrests and the Southwest New Hampshire Mutual Aid Dispatch Center reported multiple ambulances being sent to the scene.
“I got hit with a Jack Daniel’s (whiskey) bottle, like across the face,” Keene State student Roger Creekmore told WMUR.
Steven French, 18, who was visiting from Haverhill, Massachusetts, described the chaotic scene to the local paper, The Keene Sentinel, as “wicked.”
“It’s just like a rush. You’re revolting from the cops,” he told the paper Saturday night. “It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”
The disturbances started early Saturday afternoon. Bonfires burned into the early hours of Sunday morning on city streets that were littered with broken beer and liquor bottles, video from CNN affiliate WMUR showed.
“I am saddened and disheartened at the events surrounding this year’s Keene Pumpkin Festival,” said Keene State College President Anne Huot. “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.”
Huot said Keene State students bore some of the responsibility for the unruly behavior, but also suggested that some outside the community had billed the event “as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior.”
Because of arrests (140 last year, the Sentinel reported) and injuries at past festivals, the community has held forums in recent years — inviting police and emergency room doctors as well as residents — to explore ways to mitigate the violence, vandalism and littering that come with the celebration.
The pumpkin festival is a source of pride for the community of 23,000 people about 80 miles northwest of Boston. Last year, the event set a world record with 30,581 lit jack-o’-lanterns, according to the festival’s website.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s not Pumpkin Fest,” Jacob Gowans, another Keene State student, told WMUR. “We’re supposed to have a fun weekend. This is stupid.”