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Urban Outfitters sweatshirt scandal stirs memories of a Miami-area connection

Mary Vecchio cries over the body of one of the Kent State University students who had just been shot by Ohio National Guard soldiers on May 4, 1970.
Mary Vecchio cries over the body of one of the Kent State University students who had just been shot by Ohio National Guard soldiers on May 4, 1970. John Filo

After the release of a red-splattered, vintage Kent State University sweatshirt, a controversial reference to the killing of four Kent State students in 1970, sparked national outrage, clothing company Urban Outfitters apologized publicly on Monday.

The multinational clothing company headquartered in Philadelphia took to Twitter to express its remorse:

"Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way," the statement read in part.

The sweatshirt was first reported by BuzzFeed after a screenshot spread on Twitter.

Urban Outfitters has since removed the sweatshirt, originally priced at $129, from its website after a wave of national outrage swept across social media and news outlets.

Kent State released a statement Monday, condemning the insensitive and controversial sweatshirt. The statement read in part:

"We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today."

Almost 45 years ago, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine students; one was left paralyzed. The dramatic event led to a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

Many associate the tragic shooting with the iconic picture of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of student Jeffrey Miller, who had been fatally wounded. Vecchio was a runaway from Opa-locka who had friends on the Kent State campus.

In a History Channel video interview years later, Vecchio said she instinctively ran toward Miller, who had been shot in the mouth after lobbing a tear-gas canister back at guardsmen who had ordered the demonstrators to disband.

''There was so much blood. I knew he was dead,'' she said of Miller, whom she had met on campus. "I wanted to help, but there was nothing to do, so I just screamed.''

The famous photograph was snapped by John Filo, a senior photography major at the time. The picture would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Filo, who said he was on ''automatic pilot,'' clicked on the moment Vecchio reacted.

''She just let out with a scream. It was an automatic picture,'' he said in the same video interview.

Largely fueled by the powerful photograph of Vecchio and Miller, the shootings at Kent State shocked the nation: American soldiers had opened fire on American students on an American college campus. Three of the four students killed had been among those challenging the guard, but one was on her way to class.

Ten days after Kent State, two more students were killed at Jackson State University in Mississippi while demonstrating the actions of the Ohio National Guard.

Vecchio, one of six children of Frank and Claire Vecchio, a maintenance worker at PortMiami and a housewife, was recognized by her father in the photo that ran in major newspapers across the country. She was returned home from Indianapolis, where she went after the shootings.

Then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, chastised her involvement in the fatal rally telling reporters she had ''been planted there by the Communists.'' Her mother told the New York Times in 1990 that ''people wrote letters telling her daughter that she was responsible'' for the deaths for having taken part in the demonstration and ignoring orders from the guards.

''Can you imagine a 14-year-old girl having to deal with that?'' Claire Vecchio said.

Vecchio, who attended Westview Middle School, eventually settled in Las Vegas.

In 2007, at a ceremony at Kent State to mark the 37th anniversary of the shootings, Vecchio said: "We didn't do anything wrong. We were just voicing our opinion right here on this lawn. We had the freedom to do that."

The controversial sweatshirt didn't mark the first time Urban Outfitters faced public criticism for an insensitive piece of clothing.

In 2010, the company was under fire for releasing an allegedly pro-anorexia v-neck with the words "Eat Less" on the front.

In the past other controversial items have included a shirt that had "Depression" sprawled across numerous times and a series of shirts that allegedly promoted underage drinking.