The Bath School Disaster: America’s Deadliest School Attack

Bath Consolidated School before the attack.

Bath Consolidated School before the attack.

Violent attacks in our nations schools have, sadly, become a fact of life in the United States. At least once a week during the school year, the news reports on a student gunning down their teachers and classmates. While it may seem that school attacks are only a recent phenomena, the worst school attack in US history occurred in 1927, in a sleepy little town called Bath, Michigan.

 

A small town dispute turns ugly

Bath was home to fewer than 300 people in 1927. It was a rural community made up of farmers and blue collar workers. Everyone knew everyone else. With such far flung residents, it made sense then that the local school district should build a consolidated school, in order to house all the local students under the same roof. The new school, built in 1922, was a fully modern facility and far more spacious than the earlier country schools it replaced. However, improvements are not free, and the township decided to raise property taxes to cover the bill.

Any tax increase is bound to rub some folks the wrong way, but no one was more worked up over the hike than Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer. He was known for his stubbornness and tendency to overreact. Locals reported that Kehoe once shot a dog for barking too much and beat his own horse to death because it was lazy. He also liked to use dynamite to clear stumps and rocks from his property. Needless to say, this was a man without a sense of proportion.

But the only thing that could get Kehoe worked up faster than lazy livestock or tree stumps was taxes. So when the property tax hike was voted through, Kehoe went on a crusade. He joined the school board to try and get the new taxes taken off the books. But it went further than that. The stubborn farmer fought tooth and nail against just about any spending related to the school. He ran for town clerk in 1926, no doubt hoping the office would put him in a position to overturn the hated taxes, but his stubbornness as a school board member came back to haunt him. He lost the race, and not long later received news that his farm was in foreclosure. Kehoe was a man in a bad spot. Soon, his resentments led him to form a horrific plan to get back at the community he felt had wronged him.

 

Dynamite found under the school after the attack.

Dynamite found under the school after the attack.

A horrific attack

Kehoe used his knowledge of explosives and his background as an electrical engineer to execute his plan. Over the next several months, Kehoe gained access to the hated school and hid large amounts of dynamite within.

By May 18, Kehoe was ready to execute his plan. At 8:45 that morning, an explosion rocked the tiny village of Bath, collapsing part of the school and killing children and teachers inside. Kehoe killed his wife and destroyed his farm with explosives. He then climbed into his truck, also rigged with explosives, and drove to the school. He conversed with the superintendent near the ruined building, as rescue operations began. He triggered the bombs in his truck, killing himself, the superintendent, and a few bystanders, including a seven year old boy.

At the end of the day, 45 people—38 of them children—lay dead. A good chunk of the school lay in ruins, and the tiny town was shell shocked. As bad as it was, it might have been worse. Investigators found 500 pounds of dynamite and gunpowder in the school that failed to detonate due to faulty wiring. If these bombs had detonated, the entire school and many buildings in the downtown area would have been flattened, effectively wiping Bath off the map.

 

Sources

Peters, Justin. “We Still Look at Ourselves as Survivors More Than Eighty Years Later, Remebering the Deadliest School Massacre in American History.” Slate.com. December 18, 2012. Slate. September 1, 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2012/12/18/bath_school_bombing_remembering_the_deadliest_school_massacre_in_american.html

 

“School Dynamiter First Slew Wife.” The New York Times. May 20, 1927. http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bauerle/nyt520.txt

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Bath School Disaster: America’s Deadliest School Attack

  1. Wendy

    This is not the deadliest school disaster in US history. Massacre yes. But deadliest disaster is the London School Explosion in new London Texas in 1937.

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