By Bahaa Abazeed and Diala Elhallak
Unis Middle School
(Editor’s note: After a visit to a journalism conference at Michigan State University, Unis Middle School journalists were taken by field trip bus driver Bill Bromund to the little town of Bath, Mich., where two of Bromund’s ancestors were killed in the 1927 bombing of a schoolhouse.)
On May 18, 1927, the deadliest attack ever on a U.S. school took place in Bath Township, Mich.
Near the site of the explosion, Bill Bromund said, “Andrew Kehoe was the person who planned this attack.” Two of Bromund’s relatives, Robert and Amelia Bromund, died in the attack. The explosion that Kehoe set killed 45 people.
A memorial of the explosion is inside the
Kehoe, who was born in Tecumseh, Mich., on Feb. 1, 1872, to a family of 13 children, was elected treasurer of Bath School in 1924. While he was on the board, he fought continuously to lower taxes. Kehoe blamed his family’s poor financial conditions on property taxes. Some taxes were used to build the Bath School. Kehoe repeatedly accused school Superintendent Emory Huyck of financial mismanagement.
Kehoe and his wife, Nellie, whom he had married in 1912, lived on a farm outside the village of Bath. Kehoe was described as being impatient with the people around him. Neighbors saw the cruelty he showed to his animals, and he was said to have once beaten a horse to death.
People also called him thrifty and it helped him get elected as school treasurer. He campaigned for lower taxes. Working as janitor at the Bath School that he felt had cost him so much money, Kehoe had the opportunity to carefully plan his attack.
The first attack began early in the morning on May 18, 1927. Kehoe had killed his wife, who was already ill and near death, and tied up his farm animals in the barn. He then used firebombs to set the barn and house on fire. Neighbors contacts firefighters, who rushed to the farm.
Kehoe, meanwhile, headed for the school. There, a second set of explosions began at 9:45 a.m. Kehoe had planted hundreds of pounds of pyrotol inside the school’s walls and floors, and used a detonator to set the dynamite off. Kids jumped out of windows. It was a huge chaos. The explosion was heard miles away. Firefighters headed toward the school. Concerned parents feared an earthquake and began heading toward the school.
When rescuers arrived at the school, the third explosion came. Kehoe had packed his car with explosive and metal objects and summoned the superintendent over to it. Linda Wolf, director of the Bath School Memorial, told us, “Kehoe then ignited dynamite … and killed himself and the superintendent and many others.” Wolf’s grandfather died in the attack.
Cleo Claton, 8, a second grader wandering out of the collapsed school building was killed by flying pieces of metal from the car.
As investigators were searching the school after the massacre, they had found 500 pounds of unexploded dynamite. Then, investigators gathered at Kehoe’s farm to investigate the fire. Detectives identified Nellie Kehoe’s body at the ruins of the farm. Nellie’s body was extremely damaged that it wasn’t noticed by neighbors. The farm was destroyed and the barn animals were killed. The amount spent on explosives could have easily paid off the mortgage.
Bill Bromund said “This bombing has not only impacted our family but the whole community by pulling us together.” His ancestors, Amelia and Robert, were fifth graders at the school. Their graves were the last two marked. It did not happen until 2008.
This chaos was devastating not only for Bath Township, but all of the country. Thirty-eight children between the ages of 7 and 14 and seven adults died. These children did not deserve this to happen to them.
At Kehoe’s farm, investigators found a wooden sign wired to his fence that saud:
“CRIMINALS ARE MADE NOT BORN.”