The US has a long and bloody history with school massacres and the list is unfortunately long and steeped in pain and doom.
From the University of Texas (1966) and Columbine High School (1999) to the University of Virginia (2007) and the elementary Sandy Hook (2012), you can hardly talk about someone without waking up the memories of everyone else.
But there is a name that is rarely mentioned. It is the oldest and deadliest school massacre in American history, an attack that the country wanted to bury deep in the collective consciousness.
He was the treasurer of the school who would bleed the village. The diary recorded May 18, 1927 when he would kill his wife, set fire to his farm and go up to his farm to the community school.
His double attack would have left 44 people dead (38 children and 6 adults) and at least 58 injured.
It was the first such shock that the USA. This is the tragic story of…
The new school in Bath, Michigan
In 1927, Bath was a small village of 300 people, despite being next to Lansing, just 15 miles (15 km) from the state capital. The only educational institution was the new school, the pride of the area.
It was built just 5 years ago to replace the scattered single-school schools in the pastures. And the truth is that he had attracted all the students from the surrounding communities, counting 314 children in his classes. All sons and daughters farmers and breeders.
It was a real jewel, Elementary and High School together. And the year had gone amazingly in entries and performances. That Wednesday, May 18, 1927, was the last day of the academic year and everyone was happy, students and teachers…
The double explosion
Only their joy would not last long. Just a quarter of an hour after school began, at 8:45 a.m., the entire north wing of the three-story building exploded so loudly that it was heard even in the city.
“We knew he was coming from Bath, but we did not know what had happened. “We got in the old car and drove as fast as we could to see what it was,” Irene Dunham told the Lansing State Journal.
The age-old woman is today one of the few eyewitnesses left alive. He was 19 years old when the bad happened and he would graduate that day, but he did not go because he felt unwell.
“There was a pile of 5-6 children under the roof and some of them had their arms out, others their legs and others their heads protruding. They were unrecognizable, because they were covered with dust, plaster and blood, Writes local writer Monty Ellsworth in his journal The Bath School Disaster (1927).
“It was a miracle that so many parents did not lose their minds before the task of rescuing their children from debris. It was 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon before the last child left. “
As members of the small community gathered at the scene after the blast to help, trying at first to find survivors under the rubble, a school board member arrived in the yard in his car. It had not been half an hour since the explosion.
It was treasurer Andrew Kehoe. Without greeting anyone, he got out of the farm, took a few steps and then turned around and shot the vehicle with his rifle. The body was full of dynamite and pieces of metal.
The second blast killed the school warden, some villagers, an 8-year-old boy who had survived the collapse of the roof and Kehoe himself. And the postman of the village, who lost a leg and died before he could reach the hospital.
Unbeknownst to them, it was Kehoe who planted them explosives at school, planning the explosion at 8:45 in the morning.
In the panic and shock, firefighters and police found a second set of explosives, this time in the basement of the south wing. Another 230 kilos of dynamite that had not exploded.
Kehoe had even placed gas canisters at strategic points to start a fire if the explosives did not explode.
Indeed, he intended to demolish the whole school and kill whoever was inside.
The tragic events before the massacre
THE Fire Service They were already on their way to a farm fire in the area when they heard the explosion and turned to school.
Minutes before the school building exploded, Kehoe detonated the explosive device that destroyed the house and buildings on his farm.
Neighbors heard the clicks, saw the fire and ran to help, calling the fire department. Some entered the burning house in an attempt to see if they were trapped.
One of the volunteers saw dynamite in a corner and invited people to come out immediately. There they saw Kehoe get in his old Ford, pass in front of them and tell them that it would be good to leave the fire in his house and run fast to school.
The dark preparations
It is not known when or how Kehoe decided to shed blood in the village. However, as some villagers told the New York Times, he must have been preparing for his strike for a long time. He was motivated and everyone knew it.
Most reported in the newspaper that he had such assassination plans since the summer-autumn of last year. And a lot of time to complete them. He was, you see, experienced electrician and he had been recruited by the school in November 1926 to make the installation with the lights.
So he learned the space outside and mixed up and as a member of the school council he could also enter and leave the house undisturbed. It is now known that dynamite began to buy, at least from the middle of 1926, small quantities so as not to arouse suspicion.
He gradually bought more than a ton of gunpowder, an explosive used by farmers after World War I. He bought small quantities of pyrotol and dynamite from shops in the area.
Police even suspected him of stealing a significant amount of dynamite from the site of a new bridge. Michigan State Police later found out that he bought his rifle in December 1926.
The day before the attack, he also bought new tires for his van, before filling it with explosives and scrap metal. And he made many trips to the city, school and home.
As for his tragic wife, Nellie Price Kehoe, he was discharged from Lansing Hospital on May 16. He had been hospitalized for some time for tuberculosis. We do not know at what time in the two days leading up to the massacre Kehoe killed her in their home.
After killing her, he put her in the barrow and hid her in the coop, where they found her body badly burned after the fire in the house. Next to her were both of their horses, also dead.
According to the testimonies, all the buildings of the farm were trapped with explosives. On the fence of which he had hung his creepy sign that read “criminals become, they are not born”…
The murderous motive
Prior to the massacre, Kehoe was another villager. And a relatively prominent member of the community, always participating in the commons. He lived quietly with his wife, he had it farm and served the community as a member of the school board.
He even bought explosives from the state, from the stock of the First World War, which were used by farmers to uproot stones and cut down trees from their fields.
At some point, however, he began to run away. He first killed his neighbor’s dog in a quarrel. It bothered him because he barked at night. Then he killed his horse. And now you could see him fighting with everyone.
What bothered him the most was the large taxes he had to pay to build the new school. “Many of the stupid things he did were just stupid things people do,” writes Arnie Bernstein in his own Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing.
In the light of the massacre, however, all this acquired a new dimension. Both the villagers and Type they were trying to make sense, to find out why the killer killed so many children, everyone remembered an event.
It was not only the high taxes that infuriated 55-year-old Kehoe, but also his defeat in the April 1926 election for a seat on the community council. This had cost him dearly, his rejection by his fellow villagers, and everyone was now recalling his medicinal statements of revenge.
Now everyone remembered how difficult a person he had become and what problems he was creating in school board meetings. He always voted the exact opposite of what the majority decided. He was a member since 1924 and treasurer since 1926.
We now know that in June 1926 he had received a notice for the sale of his property, as he had stopped paying the installments of his mortgage.
He complained that it was the biggest taxes for the construction of the new school that did not allow him to be okay with his obligations.
However, he told a mortgage broker that “if I can not live in this house, no one will be able to.”
The first invoices for the purchase of dynamite and gunpowder state this date, June 1926. Neighbors even reported that he had stopped working on his farm throughout 1927 and were worried that he might be preparing to commit suicide.
The newspapers called him “crazy” and “insane”. The New York Times thought he lost his mind when he learned that his life would be taken away. The Boston Daily Globe pointed to an old head injury, which had thrown him in coma for a while, as a source of his insanity.
The whole process, however, until the massacre showed a man who knew well what he was doing and even better how to cover his tracks. There were no impulsive moves, despite well-planned actions, once in a while.
Despite the devastation of the first large-scale school massacre in the United States and the fact that at least 50,000 people attended the victims’ funerals, the incident was quickly forgotten.
Two days after the bloodshed in Bath, the “Odyssey of the ethers” Charles Lindbergh would make the first non-stop transatlantic flight, turning the page on daily news.
Bath’s tragedy was now playing in the newspaper columns. Within a year, the school was repaired and the students returned to the large building.
The children did their homework there until the 1970s, when it was demolished and replaced by a simple monument.
No one remembered what had happened at that point half a century ago…