It's difficult to fully wrap one's mind around the Las Vegas mass shooting. The scope of the carnage is overwhelming.
Yet horrifying crimes that target scores of innocent people are nothing new. They bring to mind an earlier attack that stunned the country: the Bath School Massacre.
Back in 1927, Bath Township was a quiet rural community in central Michigan, not far from Lansing. It was the last place you'd expect to be the site of a mass killing.
Yet Andrew Kehoe had murder on his mind that spring. Things were going poorly for the 55-year-old farmer. He was treasurer of the local school board with a reputation for being a difficult man with a violent temper. The bank was foreclosing on his farm. His property taxes went up. His wife was in the hospital and, topping it all off, he had just been defeated in an election for township clerk.
He viewed that last setback as a public humiliation, and silently set about plotting his revenge.
Shortly after his wife returned home, he murdered her sometime between May 16 and 18. On the morning of the 18th, his farmhouse and barns exploded, triggering massive fires. He also shot and killed his horses, cut down trees, and planted explosives all around the property. Then Kehoe got in his pickup truck and drove to town.
At about the same time his farm went up in flames, the north wing of Bath Consolidated School exploded. Kehoe had secretly filled the basement below it with hundreds of pounds of explosives and a timer set to go off that morning. A teacher later told reporters, "It seemed as though the floor went up several feet. After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind … 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."
Kehoe sat in his truck, watching the carnage he had unleashed. He spotted the school superintendent and called him over. An argument followed. Kehoe produced a rifle and fired, igniting yet another load of explosives inside the truck. Kehoe, the superintendent, and several others were killed, including an 8-year-old boy who had survived the initial school building blast.
Investigators later discovered 500 more pounds of explosives and a timer planted under the school's south wing. Kehoe had intended to destroy that as well, though for some reason the charge didn't detonate.
When the smoke finally cleared, 38 people were dead and at least 64 others were injured. Many of the victims were children. It remains the deadliest school mass murder in U.S. history.
Then as now, Americans responded with an overwhelming show of sympathy and support. Flowers flooded in from around the world and money was donated. The Red Cross led initial relief efforts, followed by the Bath Relief Fund, which ultimately raised enough funds to replace the school's damaged wing. The entire structure was eventually torn down and turned into Bath Memorial Park, where the school's original cupola stands in honor of those who died there.
Some victims were so poor, their families couldn't afford burial markers. Stones were finally placed at the last of those unmarked graves in 2008.
As for Kehoe, his body was also buried in an unmarked grave in the pauper's section of a local cemetery. His entire farm was plowed under, in case more explosives were buried beneath it. None were found. The land is still farmed today, though the farmhouse was never rebuilt.
Kehoe didn't leave behind a suicide note. But he did share a final morbid message. When authorities arrived at his farm, they found a wooden sign attached to a fence containing these words: "Criminals are made, not born."
Andrew Kehoe's pathetic final days, and the misery he unleashed on so many innocent people, proved the saying's truth.
J. Mark Powell (@JMarkPowell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former broadcast journalist and government communicator. His weekly offbeat look at our forgotten past, "Holy Cow! History," can be read at jmarkpowell.com.
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