02:19 - Source: CNN
On-air spat during report on riots

Story highlights

City officials in Keene, New Hampshire, say at least 30 hurt in melee

Police want to find people who threw rocks, bottles

Police will seek suspects through social media

Disturbance broke out at the city's annual pumpkin festival

CNN —  

The police department in Keene, New Hampshire, wants to identify and prosecute the people who threw objects at police, overturned a car, set fires and engaged in other “riotous behavior” Saturday and Sunday at the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival, the city government said Monday.

The fire department treated 30 people for injuries, mostly those hit by thrown objects, law enforcement authorities said at a news conference.

Full bottles and cans of alcohol and even billiard balls were hurled through the air, police said. People shouted expletives at officers, started fires in the road and flipped over a vehicle, Keene Police Chief Kenneth Meola said. Crowds were so hostile that firefighters had trouble reaching the injured, he said.

Eighty-four people were arrested over the weekend, Meola said, and more arrests are expected.

Police said high school and college students used social media to spread word about the event, held near Keene State College. The school’s president, Anne Huot said some outside the community had billed the event “as a destination for destructive and raucous behavior.”

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.”

Students could be expelled

Many of the suspects are from other New England colleges and the schools will trade information in an attempt to locate the suspects, Huot told reporters.

Besides being charged with crimes, Keene State students could be expelled if they participated, she said.

Police said they’ll use social media in trying to locate and identify suspects.

Meola said the problem started about 1 p.m. Saturday when police tried to break up an unruly crowd of about 1,000 people at the festival. Police in riot gear used tear gas and pepper spray to to disperse the group.

A second group of about the same size also started throwing objects at police, he said. The groups eventually moved to another spot where they were partially contained, Meola said. Some of the suspects spilled over onto the campus and damaged property there, he said.

“This went on for approximately eight hours,” he said.

“The potential for somebody being seriously injured or killed was there,” said Col. Robert Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police.

Police used about 100 pepper balls and finally ran out, Meola said. Officers then resorted to “sponge rounds,” which he said were “similar to an extended baton kind of stroke.”

Police had problems last year

Keene police called in backup from the New Hampshire State Police and other nearby police forces.

Most of the injured were students.

“I got hit with a Jack Daniel’s (whiskey) bottle, like across the face,” Keene State student Roger Creekmore told WMUR.

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.

Police reported problems at last year’s pumpkin festival, but not to this extent, Meola said. The Sentinel reported 140 arrests last year.

“This wasn’t like a party we had to go break up,” he said. “This was out in the public. Nobody organized it. It happened on its own.”

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.

Town to discuss festival future

Keene Mayor Kendall W. Lane said public forums will be held in December to discuss the future of the Pumpkin Festival. This was the 24th consecutive year it’s been held.

Huot said she was encouraged to see many students come out voluntarily Sunday morning to help clean up the debris from the disturbance.

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.”

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Jackie Castillo and Ed Payne contributed to this report