The Bath School Massacre was a series of bombings that took place in Bath Township, Michigan on May 18, 1927. The attacks were carried out by a local farmer named Andrew Kehoe, on the last day of the school year. He killed 38 elementary school children and six adults before taking his own life. At least 58 others were injured. It was the deadliest school massacre in American history.
It made headlines throughout the nation. But much of the national media attention of the massacre was diverted to coverage of Charles Lindbergh’s Trans-Atlantic flight.
Possible motives for the Bath School Massacre
The Bath School building had only been built five years earlier to consolidate the local, rural schools. Kehoe, was a 55-year-old school board treasurer. The increased taxes from the new school made Kehoe furious. He also felt humiliated by a defeat in the April 5, 1926, election for township clerk. Kehoe was also facing a foreclosure on his farm and his wife was chronically ill with tuberculosis.
Monty Ellsworth, one of Kehoe’s neighbors described him as “the world’s worst demon.”
Kehoe, who was also an experienced electrician, spent much of the next year hiding explosives under the school’s floors.
At 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18, Kehoe detonated the firebombs in his house and farm buildings. The explosions sent debris into a neighbor’s poultry-brooding house. Kehoe’s wife was killed in the explosions. In the bedlam of the explosion, neighbors and volunteers rushed to the farm. A volunteer named O.H. Bush discovered dynamite in the corner of the house. Meanwhile, Kehoe fleeing the scene in his Ford truck, stopped to tell the people fighting the fire that they needed to head to the school.
Meanwhile, at the same time (8:45 a.m.) Kehoe’s explosives under the school were detonated by an alarm clock hidden in the school’s basement. The explosion collapsed the north wing of the school which dropped the edge of the roof on the ground.
Witnesses recalled Kehoe driving toward the school with a grin on his face. He pulled up to the school about half an hour after the first explosion and summoned Superintendent Huyck over to his truck. Kehoe reportedly pulled out a long gun. Men rushed toward Kehoe and tried to pry the gun out of his hands. However, not before Kehoe detonated the dynamite in his truck, which immediately killed himself and four others including a wounded second grader that survived the first round of blasts.
The truck explosion spread debris over a large area and caused damage to cars parked a half-block away, while the car roofs caught on fire from the burning gasoline.
An eyewitness named Robert Gates said this about the chaotic scene:
“Mother after mother came running into the schoolyard, 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. I saw more than one woman lift clusters of bricks held together by mortar heavier than the average man could have handled without a crowbar.”
The damaged wing of the school was rebuilt and most of the surviving students returned. Years later, James Couzens Memorial Park where the school’s cupola is displayed, was built on the former site of the school.
The massacre could’ve been worse
Kehoe had wired 600 pounds of explosives through the school, but only 100 pounds exploded. Experts believe the initial explosion caused a short circuit that prevented the detonation of the other bombs, but the reason why they didn’t explode has never been conclusively determined.
Today, the Bath School massacre is remembered as a tragic and shocking event that continues to haunt the community and serves as a reminder of the devastating consequences of hatred and violence. Unfortunately, recent school shootings have brought this event back into focus.