STATE COLLEGE, Pa (Reuters) - More than 1,000 protesting Penn State University students poured into the streets around campus on Wednesday after head football coach Joe Paterno was fired in fallout from a child-abuse scandal at the school.
Chanting “Hell no, Joe won’t go” and “We want Joe back,” they also cursed former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was charged on Saturday with sexually abusing eight young boys over a period of nearly 15 years.
Two other university officials have been charged with failing to report an incident in 2002 when Sandusky allegedly was seen sexually assaulting a child.
Paterno, who has been head coach for 46 years, was dismissed Wednesday by the university’s board of trustees along with university President Graham Spanier hours after the U.S. Education Department announced an investigation of conduct at Penn State.
The students filled two city blocks near the campus and turned over a media van before earth-moving equipment was brought in to right the vehicle. Members of the crowd also damaged at least two light poles.
Scores of police and state troopers, some in riot gear, tried to clear the streets, and some officers used a chemical spray to disperse the demonstrators. Crowds thinned somewhat after a light rain began to fall.
At least three people were escorted away by police but it was not immediately clear if they were arrested. A police spokeswoman had said she was not aware of any arrests.
“I haven’t seen this kind of student outrage about anything since I’ve been here,” said Caroline Celoquin, a senior from Westchester, Pennsylvania.
Asked how she felt about Paterno being fired, Nicole Atlak, a freshman from Toms River, New Jersey, said: “Absolutely disgusted. From a student’s perspective, it’s like where do we go from here? We no longer have a president. We no longer have a 45-year legacy.”
A student with a bullhorn addressed the crowd, saying: “I think it’s only fair to let him (Paterno) ride out the season because this is the house that Joe built.”
While most of the students were protesting the decision, some said they understood the move by the board of trustees and did not condone Paterno’s failure to report the alleged sexual abuse to police. Still, the majority seemed more upset that Paterno was not allowed to complete the season, as he had wanted.
Paterno won more games than any other major college coach in history. He told a grand jury investigation that when he was informed in 2002 of his assistant coach’s alleged sexual abuse of a boy, he passed the information on to the athletic director but did not follow up. The alleged abuse continued for several more years.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Cynthia Johnston