Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Michigan Tragedy

Honestly, I'm not sure how to start this article.  Yesterday,  I read an article in Cracked and one of the little stories was about this tragedy in Michigan.  So  I decided to look up the details and seek the place out today because it turns out that it wasn't all that far away.  Anyway...
It seems that every couple of years we either read about or see on the news that another school has been shot up somewhere.  It turns out to be some sort of person with some sort of grudge.  Then it further turns out that there were one or two people that comment about how they knew something was open.  And it seems like the news cycle does about the same thing.  And despite all impressions, there is nothing new about school massacres.
 The spot of the worst school massacre in US history is now a peaceful park in a small bedroom community just north of East Lansing.  After construction of a new school, all that remains of that old school is the cupola that was on the top.  The people of Bath decided to keep it as a memorial.

 In 1991, the State of Michigan Historical Society put a marker here. 
 It has a pretty good history of the event. 
 As I said in the lead in, Bath Township is located just north of East Lansing.  In the early 1900's, it was a mostly agricultural community of about 300 residents.  Many of their schools were spread throughout the area and in 1922 it was decided that these schools would be consolidated into one building.  This of course led to higher property taxes for the people of the area and that would have an impact on one particular resident.  The school itself was completed sometime before 1927.

 This plaque is on the cupola of the school itself.  The perpetrator of the attack was named Andrew Kehoe.  He was born in Tecumseh, Michigan in 1872 and would later attend Michigan State College (later Michigan State University) to study electrical engineering.  It was reported that he may have killed his stepmother but it was nominally an accident.  After graduation from college he ended up moving to St. Louis, Missouri.  In 1919, he would end up moving to Bath, Michigan with his wife.  It was said that he would beat his horse and he shot a dog because he got tired of its barking.
In 1924, he was elected as a trustee on the School Board and later the treasurer.  It was said that he was difficult to work with and would argue about even the most necessary expenditures.  He even accused the superintendent of financial mismanagement.
In 1926, his farm was foreclosed and this may have been the catalyst that led to the later tragedy.   He started to plan the destruction of his own farm and started to gather the materials to do so.  It was also around this time that his wife came down with tuberculosis.
At approximately 8:45, on the morning of May 18, 1927, he would detonate the explosives on his farm, destroying it.  He also murdered his wife.
 The school children filed into the school on the morning of May 18th, 1927.  To them, it was probably just another normal day.  Classes began at 8:30 that morning.  At about the same time as the detonation on Kehoe's farm, the bomb that he installed in the basement went off.  Rescuers were on their way to the farm as the building exploded.  They immediately turned around and went to the school.  It is believe that 38 people were killed in this initial explosion.
About a half hour after the explosion, Kehoe drove to the school in his truck.  He summoned the superintendent over and after a tussle over a gun, Kehoe detonated his truck.  The explosion would kill Kehoe, the superindentent, a retired farmer and a second grader.  The shrapnel from the truck would mortally wound the postmaster.
 In the immediate aftermath, people were summoned from all over the area to help in rescuing children from the burning debris.  The Lansing Fire Department sent several firemen to help.  Even Governor Fred Green came to help remove bricks.   The bombing destroyed the north wing of the school.  During the searches, it was discovered that Kehoe had set up a bomb in the south wing but that failed detonate.
Police and fire fighters also gathered at the Kehoe farm.  They found his wife's charred body on the next day.  They also found a wooden sign wired to the fence that read, "Criminals are made, not born".  This apparently was Kehoe's last message.
 In total, 45 people were killed and 44 of those deaths were at the school.  The other death was his wife.  Another 58 people suffered non-fatal injuries.  Many of the people killed were students of the school.  It was the worst school massacre in United States History.
 There was a trial to determine if this incident could have been avoided but it was determined that Kehoe had acted sane enough.  There was also an investigation into whether Kehoe had collaborators but it was determined he acted alone.
 Governor Green immediately requested funds to help rebuild the school.  Classes resumed in September using various buildings around town.  Lansing architect Warren Holmes provided plans for the construction of the new building which was approved on September 14th, 1927.  On the next day, Michigan Senator James Couzens provided a check for $75,000 (over 1 million in today's money).   The new school building was named after Couzens and opened on August 18, 1928.
The Kehoe farm was bulldozed over and auctioned off to pay for the mortgage.
Every time, we have an incident like this, we ask ourselves how it could happen.  We also act like incidents like this are new but it turns out they aren't as new as we think.   We also ask how we can prevent acts like this in the future and we find out that we really can't.  And then we things get investigated deeper, we find out that many of these incidents have the same pattern but noone ever acts on their suspicions.

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