Worst School Massacre Was Bombing in 1927

Worst School Massacre Was Bombing in 1927

An unfathomable tragedy like Friday’s shooting in Connecticut produces an understandable instinct to assign blame and “fix” laws. Despite eons of evidence to the contrary, we yearn to pretend that evil doesn’t exist. We convince ourselves that a particular tragic event is due to some oversight in the law or some kind of loophole we failed to close. But, you can’t legislate against evil. A look back at the worst school massacre in US history reminds us of that. 

We tend to think of school massacres as something modern. But the worst one wasn’t modern, and it wasn’t even a shooting spree. It took place in Bath Township, Mich., near Lansing, at a K-12 school, and it claimed the lives of 45 people, including 38 children. It tells us that madness is not some modern affliction — it’s a human condition.


Then on May 18, 1927, he beat his wife to death. Then he set fire to his farm and drove to the school where he served as caretaker. Kehoe had been busy for more than a year, secretly setting bombs of dynamite and explosive chemicals.

He ignited the first wave of bombs, and when townspeople ran to help, he set off the second wave, which claimed his life as well. Authorities later found an unexploded 500-pound bomb in the rubble.

Kehoe had been planning the massacre for more than a year. I guess you could argue that dynamite and explosive chemicals were too readily available in 1920s America. But the mind that plans a massacre more than a year in advance is not a mind to be deterred by mere laws. His rampage was preceded by beating his wife to death. Pericles himself could not write a law to prevent that. 

The easiest–and cheapest–thing to say in the wake of the tragic events is that we need to get “serious” about guns and gun laws. But, “serious” how? Absent armed guards at every school, I can think of no law that would have prevented Friday’s horrific massacre. 

Adam Lanza’s rampage only ended when armed opposition arrived at the school and he immediately turned his gun on himself. Until that moment, every student at the “gun-free zone” school was at his mercy. 

Ban extended magazines? He would have just reloaded more often. Ban “assault weapons”? He would have just used other guns. Ban all guns? Ask the residents of Washington, Chicago, Norway or Dunblane, Scotland how that works out?  

Connecticut already has very strict gun laws. The Brady Foundation ranks them as 5th “best” in terms of gun control. Adam Lanza had recently tried to purchase a rifle and was denied. He got the weapons by stealing them from his mother. 

While I don’t personally own a gun, I take the 2nd Amendment quite literally. But, as a father to four kids, I would absolutely consider a change to gun laws if it would have prevented Friday’s horror. Unfortunately, it isn’t at all that easy. 

Friday’s tragedy should provoke national conservations. But, to really get answers, the conversation needs to be rooted in more complex issues than guns. Those were simply the medium evil chose to use this time. Hard questions about mental health, responsible parenting and a debased culture, which, for example, is set to glorify another Quentin Tarantino violence-porn opening on Christmas Day, will illuminate Friday’s events more than the predictable “conversation” about guns. 

Evil exists. There is no way to legislate it away. 

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