Board of Trustees announced football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier were being fired, casualties of the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the school community this week, students had gathered inside the HUB-Robeson Student Center.
Dozens swelled into hundreds. They stood on chairs and kneeled on the floor. They shouted at the television, cheering when the channel was finally changed to ESPNews.
The fate of the university would soon be revealed.
At 10:13 p.m., they learned Paterno was no longer their football coach.
“They fired Joe Paterno,” one student said. His tone was incredulous. A few kids wept. Other shouted swears. Most were shushed by the group.
The silence did not last long. At 10:26 p.m., the first wave of the mob burst through the doors of the Hub. It was a maelstrom of blue and gray and white, smiling and shouting and blowing into vuvuzelas — the first wave of a mob which would lead to a toppled news van, plumes of pepper spray in the air and various other acts of vandalism.
They charged through the student center and toward the steps of Old Main, the primary administration building at Penn State.
Thousands of kids flocked there, running from campus and from College Avenue. Their voices echoed into the night: “We want Joe Pa!” They cursed Jerry Sandusky, the central figure in the scandal. They cursed the trustees. They cursed the media. A bullhorn was passed around. One student began a speech, only to be shouted down by the group.
By 10:49 p.m., they decided to take to the streets, en route to Beaver Stadium. Firecrackers burst in the street. Police sirens wailed. Still, the voices did not cease.
East Beaver Avenue, a block off campus, was overtaken by rowdy fans who chanted in favor of Paterno. The chants included, “One more game! … One more game!” Police armed with batons and pepper spray and decked in riot gear fought through the crowds of people. Traffic on Beaver was blocked off.
As police in riot gear bisected Beaver Avenue, a 20-year-old junior named Karl Koerner stood near the back of the crowd on the sidewalk.
“This place has a lot of pride,” he said. He added, “I think if they had just let Joe retire, it would be okay. People have to remember that we all came here because of Joe. He’s a legend.”
At 11:41, members of the crowd began to haul down the streetlight at the corner of McAllister Avenue and East Beaver. Some screamed for the offenders to stop. Most did not.
Near midnight, the mob cheered louder as a WTAJ-CBS news van was flipped on its side. Students started rocking it and beating on it as other students cheered them on. Soon after, the crowd began throwing bottles and firecrackers at police, who attempted to control the crowd by firing tear gas. At least one individual had to be subdued by Taser and lay on the ground.
By 12:36 a.m., students were trying to rip down streetlights at corner of McAllister and College. Repeatedly gassed by police officers, the hordes sprinted down McAllister to avoid clouds.
People continued hurling rocks at the police, cars and a fire truck that was on the scene to respond to the overturned van. A block away, students climbed light poles and tried to yank them down. The police continued to use pepper spray but it did little to disperse the crowd.
Just after 1:30 a.m., police cars finally worked their way down College Ave. but were pelted by bottles and stop signs were being trampled. At the intersection of College and Sowers, garbage cans were being thrown into the streets.
“They’re going to have to repair all this damage,” one female student said.
Her friend: “They shouldn’t have fired Joe Pa.”
The scenes were decidedly more somber elsewhere. Students silently sat in front of the Joe Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium with their heads down and sniffing back tears. They hugged one another and rubbed each other’s backs. Normally this area is loud and ebullient, but tonight it was silent as dozens of students stared at the statue with blank expressions.
Minutes after Paterno addressed students outside of his house, a small group lingered out front. The scene was a far cry from the night before, when hundreds of students chanted Paterno’s name and waved handmade signs when he arrived home from practice. tonight, a couple dozen students milled about, mostly silent, shocked by the earlier announcement.
“It felt like we lost a member of the family. It’s like a funeral,” said Andrew Danga-Storm, a junior from Bethlehem, Pa., who stood outside Paterno’s house. “It’s like getting hit by a ton of bricks.”