It happened in Michigan in 1927, and to this day it’s still the deadliest mass killing in an American school.
The story starts with a 54 year old farmer named Andrew Kehoe. He was by all accounts a frugal (some would say stingy) man and though he wasn’t well-liked by his neighbours but his reputation of being thrifty allowed him to be elected as treasurer of the Bath County school board, and for a short time as the township’s clerk as well.
He lost his clerk position in 1926 election, however, his election campaign was emphasised low property taxes, and at that point he seems to have decided that he would perform an act of revenge against the citizens who had made it possible for the government to take away his hard-earned money.
The Reason & Preparation to take Revenge
Starting that August, he gradually purchased several hundred pounds of both dynamite and a military surplus explosive called pyrotol, he bought small quantities at numerous stores in the surrounding area in order to avoid suspicion.
He concealed these explosives inside the brick schoolhouse that held all of the district’s children under the guise of performing electrical work for the school district.
He was so involved in the preparations that he entirely stopped working on his farm, and paying his mortgage. That December, he also purchased a rifle.
Plan into Action
In May of 1927, Kehoe put his plan into action. He first killed his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis and concealed her body inside a wheelbarrow in his farm’s chicken coop, then surrounded it with all of his money and other earthly valuables, so that all could be destroyed together.
He then started sabotaging everything on his farm: cutting the wire on all his fences to render it unusable, killing the trees that shaded it, slicing through all of his grape vines at the root and then wiring the stems back into place so that nothing would seem amiss to a casual observer, and placing massive firebombs inside every structure on the farm.
He also used wire restraints to hobble the legs of his two horses inside his barn, to prevent them from escaping once the bombs went off, and filled his truck with large quantities of explosives and metal shrapnel.
Then, he started a fire inside his home first and when the volunteer fire brigade arrived, he told them that they should leave as they were his friends and they would soon be needed at the school.
Exactly at 8:45 that morning (fifteen minutes after the start of classes), an alarm clock that Kehoe had set as a detonator triggered the explosives he had concealed inside the north wing of the schoolhouse.
A similar kind of device failed to activate in the south wing but the result of the one successful explosion was more than bad enough.
Within a second, the entire north wing of the schoolhouse lifted few feet into the air and community members miles away were jostled by the shockwave.
The actual Scene
One local resident named Monte Ellsworth, arrived at the scene shortly thereafter described the incident thus:
“There was a pile of children under the roof and some of them had arms sticking out, some had legs, and some just their heads sticking out. They were unrecognisable because they were covered with dust, plaster, and blood. There were not enough of us to move the roof.”
The efforts of more than a hundred frantic men were not enough to lift the roof off of the children, so Ellsworth volunteered to go home and get a thick rope that could be used to drag the roof off of them.
On his way to home, he passed his neighbour Kehoe on road. Kehoe gave him a big smile and a cheerful wave.
The suicide Attack
When Kehoe arrived at the scene, he beckoned the school superintendent (whom he hated) over to his carriage and then Kehoe fired a shot that triggered the bomb inside his carriage, spraying shrapnel into the crowd of rescuers and instantly killing both himself and his rival.
Eventually, the town’s people were able to clear enough of the wreckage to treat all of the children who were still alive. They also discovered the second timer, more than 500 pounds of explosives that was meant to detonate.
In total, Kehoe killed 43 people that day: his wife, the superintendent, four bystanders who were too close to the truck bomb (including an eight-year-old boy who had escaped from the first explosion), and 36 children & 2 teachers who had been inside the school, and 58 others were seriously injured.
Kehoe’s body was claimed by his sister, and secretly buried in an unmarked grave. The only explanation he left behind was a sign wired to a fence post at his farm – it read, “Criminals are made, not born.”
Views on the Attack
Whenever I think about the Bath School disaster, I’m always taken aback by Kehoe’s behavior. It’s one thing to just snap in anger – while that’s terrible, it’s at least something you can understand on one level or another.
But for more than half a year, Kehoe lived among these people, made small talk with them, and tipped his hat in the street, knowing that soon he would do his best to take all their children from them in one terrible morning of blood and fire.
And as if that weren’t enough, the sheer spite on display in every detail of his actions is just breathtaking. He went well out of his way to ensure that nothing he left behind would be of any use to anyone from that point forward.
What’s you view on this ? Let me know in the comments!