When we hear about an active shooter or an act of violence occurring at a school, business or church we often think its a new modern problem. However as we learn from history they have been going on longer than anyone has thought.
The Bath School disaster is the historical name of the violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927 in Bath Township, Michigan, that killed 38 elementary school children and six adults in total, and injured at least 58 other people. Kehoe first killed his wife, fire-bombed his farm and set off a major explosion in the Bath Consolidated School, before committing suicide by detonating a final explosion in his truck. It is the deadliest mass murder in a school in United States history.
Classes began at 8:30 a.m. that morning. At about 8:45 a.m., in the basement of the north wing of the school, an alarm clock set by Kehoe detonated the dynamite and pyrotol he had hidden there.
Rescuers heading to the scene of the Kehoe farm fire heard the explosion at the school building, turned back and headed toward the school. Parents within the rural community also began rushing to the school Thirty-eight people, mostly children, were killed in the explosion of the north wing.
The first-grade teacher Bernice Sterling told an Associated Press reporter that the explosion was like an earthquake:
“It seemed as though the floor went up several feet,” she said. “After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind. When it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building.
The north wing of the school had collapsed. Parts of the walls had crumbled, and the edge of the roof had fallen to the ground. Monty Ellsworth, a neighbor of the Kehoes, recounted,
There was a pile of children of about five or six under the roof and some of them had arms sticking out, some had legs, and some just their heads sticking out. They were unrecognizable because they were covered with dust, plaster, and blood. There were not enough of us to move the roof.
Ellsworth volunteered to drive back to his farm and get a rope heavy enough to pull the school roof off the children’s bodies. Returning to his farm, Ellsworth saw Kehoe in the opposite direction heading toward the school. “He grinned and waved his hand; when he grinned, I could see both rows of his teeth”, said Ellsworth.
The scene at the school building was chaotic. Robert Gates, a witness, said
… mother after mother came running into the school yard, and demanded information about her child and, on seeing the lifeless form lying on the lawn, sobbed and swooned…In no time more than 100 men were at work tearing away the debris of the school, and nearly as many women were frantically pawing over the timber and broken bricks for traces of their children.
As we read the names of the victims that day we need to plan for the future and look for ways to train our teachers for active shooter incidents to ensure that we give them the tools to survive the incident and protect our children.
|Killed in the disaster|
|Before the school bombing
|Killed in the school bombing
|Killed by the truck bombing
|Died later of injuries