What’s Going On: America’s biggest school attack you never heard of

You remember Columbine.

You know about Newtown.

And now, you’ve heard of Parkland.

But if you are like most, you know nothing about and have never heard of Bath, the site of by far, the deadliest attack on a school in the history of the United States of America.

The final body count was 44, mostly children, but included the attacker, Andrew Kehoe.

Kehoe was the stereotypical angry white man. An electrician by trade, he was also a farmer who was notified days before the attack that the bank was foreclosing on his property.

Needing to blame someone other than himself for his failings, he directed his anger towards the school district which had imposed a tax levy increase to pay for a new building. Ironically, Kehoe was actually a school board member and its treasurer and had unsuccessfully lobbied against the tax levy.

So on May 18, early in the morning, Kehoe started a chain of events that would bring tragedy and devastation to the small Michigan community of about 400 people.

He started by killing his wife and torching his farm before heading to the school where he launched his deadly attack. Before he could be arrested though, Kehoe would take his own life (along with several other innocent bystanders) by blowing up his car with a homemade bomb.

Now, at this point you might be wondering how in the world could you have missed this story? Forty-four dead? Surely the media would have been all over that like white on rice for days, weeks and months to come.

Actually though, the story was national news for about three days until another major event bumped it off all front pages outside of Michigan. The new event that captured the attention of the American public: some aviator actually flew a plane … across the ocean.

That’s right. The attack at Bath Township School occurred three days before Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis made their historic flight in 1927, more than 90 years ago.

And of course, Mr. Kehoe didn’t use a semi-automatic rifle to reap his carnage. In fact, he didn’t use a gun at all — dynamite was his weapon of choice.

He had spent weeks deliberately planning the attack and wiring the explosives throughout the school. A timing device failed in one part of the building or the body count would have been much higher.

In 1927, there was no such thing as a terrorist or a suicide bomber, but either, or both terms apply to Kehoe. Labels that did exist then, that are equally applied today, include maniac and madman, both of which were used by The New York Times in a headline and lead sentence for a story they ran about the incident.

Interestingly though, there was no ensuing widespread national debate about mental health, school security, or legislative reforms addressing access to dynamite or other explosives.

It was simply chalked up to an isolated incident by a … well … madman.

And history would prove that to be true, as the Bath bombing was an isolated incident never duplicated to that scale again.

As everyone knows, another chapter was written last week in our country’s tragic history of attacks upon children while attending school.

I don’t know if there’s any correlation between the 1927 bombing and the shooting in Florida, or Connecticut, or Colorado, or anywhere else. Any claim that the Bath Bombing is an example that “evil will find a way” regardless of the tool available seems like more than a stretch.

But regardless of the political optics of the ongoing gun control debate, I found it interesting to learn that attacking children at schools is hardly the creation of a modern, amoral society, or the result of any current political leader, bad parenting, or an “entitled” generation of young people.

Bad people have always been around, and as such, will do bad things. That’s a story that will never change.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.