Attacks On Schools Are Not A Recent Phenomenon

Posted: March 25, 2018 in History
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People seem to think of school tragedies as relatively recent events. And although they do seem to be getting more deadly and more frequent, the fact is school shootings go back as far as the 1760s. Most were isolated events though, and not pre-planned attacks aimed at killing large numbers of people. You can check this link to see how often it’s happened, and it might surprise you.

I think the first time I was ever really aware that something like this could even happen was back in 1979 when Bob Geldof wrote the song “I Don’t Like Mondays” for his band The Boomtown Rats. The song was about Brenda Spencer, a 16-year old girl who lived across the street from Cleveland Elementary School in California. She opened fire on the school and killed a principal and a custodian. She also injured eight children and a police officer. As she was still in the house and before the police busted in to arrest her, a reporter called her and asked her why she was doing this. Her response was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” Geldof read about this, wrote the song, and it went straight to #1. Here’s the weird, chilling video if you’d like a look:

I have a vague recollection of Charles Whitman and the University of Texas tower shootings as a kid, and I’ve since read a book about it as well. Still, the more recent attacks at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and of course the latest at Parkland are the events mentioned whenever people talk about school tragedies. However, there’s one horrific event that rarely gets mentioned among the others, and although guns weren’t involved it remains the oldest and deadliest school massacre in U.S. history – the bombing of Bath Consolidated School in Bath, Michigan.

The year was 1927.

Andrew Kehoe was a seemingly regular guy who resided in Bath. He graduated from Michigan State and was a part-time treasurer at his local school. He also farmed and was a member of the Bath school board. As far as anyone knew he was happily married and living a contented life.

They were wrong.

What a lot of folks around Bath didn’t know was that the bank had foreclosed on Andrew Kehoe’s farm, and he blamed local taxes that had recently been put in place to build the new school. In addition, his wife had been sick. Little did anyone know that Andrew Kehoe was about to snap, and he was going to take out his anger on the new Bath School and its inhabitants, 250 students in grades kindergarten through 12th.

Bath School, before the bombing.

In the days leading up to May 18th, Kehoe stacked about 500 pounds of explosives in the school’s basement. Because he did odd jobs around the school he had unlimited access. The dynamite was to be detonated by a timer at 8:45am.

As fate would have it, only some of the explosives went off. Amid the chaos and minutes after the blast, Kehoe drove up to the school and got out of his car. Nobody is sure exactly how he knew Kehoe was involved, but Principal Emory Huyck ran over to him. Kehoe saw Huyck coming, then grabbed his gun and fired it into his trunk, setting off explosives he’d placed there. That blast killed him, Mr. Huyck and an innocent person standing nearby.

All told, 44 people were massacred that morning, 38 of them children between the ages of 6 and 8. Another 58 were injured. Had the other explosives detonated, the toll could have been upwards of 250.

Later, authorities found that Kehoe had murdered his wife in the days leading up to the massacre.

Why has this incident been lost over time? One reason is that Andrew Kehoe died that day, so the case was over with no trial. Another is that shortly after the bombing, Charles Lindbergh made the first flight across the Atlantic and that news dominated the newspapers for months.

Nobody knows exactly why, but although it remains our nation’s worst ever school attack, Andrew Kehoe and the Bath School Bombing has been largely forgotten.

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