life, Michigan

It was the worst school massacre in history.

Classes began as usual at 8:30 a.m. at the Bath Consolidated School.

At 8:45 a.m. an explosion tore through half the school.

First-grade teacher Bernice Sterling described the explosion as being like an earthquake: “It seemed as though the floor went up several feet”, she said. “… 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 collapsed. Parts of the walls crumbled, and the edge of the roof fell to the ground.

A rescue worker 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.

It was the worst school massacre in history.

The Bath School massacre was a series of violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan, which killed 38 elementary schoolchildren and six adults and injured at least 58 others. Kehoe killed his wife and firebombed his farm, then detonated an explosion in the Bath Consolidated School before committing suicide by detonating a final device in his truck.

The 55-year-old school board treasurer was angered by increased taxes and his defeat in the Spring 1926 election for township clerk. He was thought to have planned his “murderous revenge” after that public defeat.

An eyewitness described the aftermath of the explosion: 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.

Another witness painted a portrait of personal despair: A mother, Mrs. Eugene Hart, sat on the bank a short distance from the school with a dead little daughter on each side of her. She was holding her little boy, Percy, who died a short time after they got him to the hospital. As she sat there in despair, waiting for help for her son, Kehoe blew his truck up, severely wounding Perry, her oldest child. How does a mother survive that?

Bath_School_Disaster_Victims 2.jpg

As you can see, several parents lost multiple children that May day.

Hundreds of people worked in the wreckage of the north wing all day and into the night in an effort to find and rescue any children pinned underneath.

During the search, rescuers found an additional 500 pounds of dynamite and an alarm clock timed to go off at 8:45 a.m. in the south wing. He had intended to blow up the whole school.  Investigators speculated that the initial explosion may have caused a short circuit in the second set of bombs, preventing them from detonating.

 

What set off the man who set off the bombs?

The Wikipedia article, from which I took this information, listed the motives as revenge for defeat in a local election and personal and financial stress.

Lots of people lose elections and lots of people undergo personal and financial stress without killing anyone.

But Kehoe did.

He methodically planned his revenge – which is not even the right word because revenge is “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands.”

Kehoe didn’t suffer injury or wrong at the hands of the 38 children and 6 adults he killed or at the hands of the 58 he wounded.

The children didn’t have a vote in his lost election.

But he killed them anyway.

Misguided revenge may have been the motive, but it wasn’t the reason.

He was mad because things weren’t going his way – property taxes, elections.

Investigators found a wooden sign wired to the farm’s fence with Kehoe’s last message stenciled on it: “Criminals are made, not born.”

Back when I was a social worker, I attended a foster care event.  The keynote speaker was a man named Glenn Hester, who had written a book entitled, Child of Rage. I read the book and learned that Mr. Hester had grown up in the foster care system.  A childhood full of abuse gave him ample reason for rage, rage which landed him in correctional institutions and  psychiatric hospitals. His rage was about to explode in a massacre when God intervened. At the time I heard Glenn speak he was working in a Christian program helping urban teenagers and educating foster care workers like me about what it’s like to be a kid in the system.

Glenn was a criminal who was made, but Kehoe was a criminal who was born.

He killed a neighbor’s dog for wandering onto his property barking. He beat his horse to death because it wasn’t doing what he wanted it to do.  It was suspected that he caused the gas stove explosion that killed his stepmother.

Killer’s gonna’ kill.

I’m not for guns and I’m not against guns and perhaps that’s how we’re all going to have to be if we want to stop this epidemic of school violence.

I’m not against guns because the worst school massacre in history was carried out without them.

I’m not against guns because guns don’t kill people, a murderous belief that one has been wronged, whether or not it’s true, kills people.

I’m not against guns because the right to bear arms protects us from would-be fascist dictators.

I’m not against guns because those who are hell bent on destroying life are going to destroy life – guns or no guns, legally obtained or illegally obtained.

I’m not for guns when they are automatic weapons in the hands of a 19 year old.

No civilian 19 year old should ever be sold an automatic weapon, but gun control would not have saved the 38 children and 6 adults in Michigan in 1927.

Banning the sale of automatic weapons to civilians might have saved the 14 children and 3 adults who were killed in Florida in 2018.

Murder as old as Cain and Abel.

Cain felt wronged because God accepted his brother’s sacrifice but not his.

No matter that his brother gave God his best and Cain gave God whatever.

Cain pouted and plotted because he thought God liked Abel better.

But He didn’t.

God found Cain pouting and plotting and intervened.

“Don’t do this thing you’re plotting,” God warned, “do the right thing, let go of your anger.”

But Cain went and killed his brother anyway.

I wonder whether God urged Andrew Kehoe to do the right thing.  I wonder whether he pointed out to Andrew that he hadn’t actually been wronged, that it was wrong of him to kill the dog, beat the horse, murder his stepmother.  I wonder whether He tried more than once. A year is a long time to maintain rage.

I wonder whether God urged Nikolas Cruz to put down his anger, to do what is right, to think straight.

Perhaps He did, but like Cain, he didn’t.

I saw a post on Facebook this morning saying that the solution is to let God back into the schools.

Yes, let’s let Him in – not so we can shove Him down anyone’s throat or make anyone feel bad about having differing beliefs – let’s let Him in to be available; to give rest to those who are weary, downtrodden, angry and hopeless.

What else might help?

It would help if people spoke up when they saw somewhat unusual behavior – like carrying things into a school at night – and blatant behavior like describing oneself on Facebook as a school shooter.

It would certainly help if “see something, say something” was followed up by the FBI with “do something.”

It would help if both staunch and stubborn gun camps would admit that the other side has some good points.

It would help if we would admit that it’s less about guns and more about the enraged hearts, souls and twisted minds of those who murderously wield them.

The Lord bless you and keep you, dear families and loved ones of Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. Deep and abiding peace.

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