After a late-night decision to fire Penn State football coach Joe Paterno amid a sex scandal that officials say he mishandled, students rioted across campus, damaging property and pelting police with rocks.
Controversy built-up across the course of the week after Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach under Paterno, was arrested on molestation charges. Following the filing of charges, it was revealed that both Paterno and Penn State administration had been aware of a sexual assault involving Sandusky and a boy on campus in 2002 but neglected to report the incident to authorities. As the scandal escalated, Paterno offered his resignation affective the end of the team’s current football season. Penn State trustees met yesterday evening, however, and voted to relieve both Paterno and school president Graham Spanier of their positions immediately.
As word spread across State College, Pennsylvania late last night, so did anger among the community, where many view Paterno as a local legend. Paterno, affectionately referred to as JoePa across campus, had spent most of his life with Penn State and led the team to two national championships in the 1980s. Additionally, Paterno earned his team the most victories for a college football coach in history with 409.
Over the course of a few hours, rioters tore down two lamp posts in town and tipped over a media truck belonging to a local news affiliate. Shortly after midnight, the university ordered that students vacate downtown State College, PA, where estimates of 2,000 people had already caused tremendous destruction. Local police officers and state troopers responded to an onslaught of projectiles fired off by rioters by using pepper-spray on the crowd as they attempt to disperse the riot.
“We got rowdy, and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, told the New York Times as he suffered the affects of the pepper-spray. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”
The Times reports that on their part, rioters hurled rocks, cans of soda and flares at police officers that attempted to disperse the crowd. Local station WTXF-TV claims that arrests were made, though a statistic has not yet been made available.
“Of course we’re going to riot,” aerospace engineering student Paul Howard added to The Times. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”
Sandusky was indicted on 40 counts of sex crimes earlier this month and is free on bail while he awaits trial. If convicted, the former assistant coach could face life in prison. Responding to why he did nothing to report Sandusky during his tenure at Penn State, Paterno told reporters Wednesday, “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
A local Fox News affiliate reports that after Paterno was fired on Wednesday evening, crowds gathered at his house before rioting. “Pray for the [sexual abuse] victims,” he said to his audience. “We love you.”