At the Bath Disaster with an album
by Jean Martin
First day news accounts from elsewhere
Special to The New York Times
Bath, Mich., May 18. – The insane revenge of a man maddened by financial worries brought death to at least thirty-three children today when the Consolidated School in this little village of 300 souls, eight miles north-east of Lansing, was dynamited just after the morning bell had called the classes together. Forty-one dead have been identified and one is still unknown.
The north end of the school collapsed, and undoubtedly there are bodies buried in the debris. From eighty-five to ninety-five were injured.
Andrew Kehoe, Treasurer of the village School Board, was the man who placed in the basement of the school the dynamite that wrecked one wing of the building and brought death and injury to children and teachers. Kehoe’s house and barn, a mile or so out of town, were destroyed in another explosion and fire caused by himself a little before the blast in the school.
Kehoe himself was killed, together with Emory E. Huyck, Superintendent of the school, in a third explosion, this one in Kehoe’s car as it stood in front of the demolished school half hour after the disaster there.
A mortgage on Kehoe’s farm was foreclosed last week. He was heard to complain that the high school taxes made it impossible for him to lift the mortgage. It is believed Kehoe’s mad act was caused by his desire for revenge on the School Board.
One teacher was killed and three seriously injured. The village postmaster was injured and later died.
Hunt for Bodies by Searchlight
Under the lurid glare of searchlights, playing on a tangled bed of ruins, State Police and volunteer workers continued the search tonight for missing children. The list of dead was placed at forty-two late tonight by Prosecuting Attorney Kelly Searls of Clinton County, who is directing the rescue work.
Forty-four of the seriously injured were in Lansing hospitals and between forty and fifty, with minor injuries were in their homes here.
Witnesses say that Kehoe sat in his automobile in front of the school and gloated as he watched the bodies of the children hurled into the air by his diabolical plot. Then, as the ruins of the wrecked building settled on the dead and dying children, he fired the dynamite in his own automobile killing himself, Huyck, Glenn Smith, postmaster, and Smith’s father-in-law, Nelson McFarren.
List of the Identified Dead
Following are the known dead:
Bromundt, Robert, 12.
Bromundt, Amelia, 11; sister of Robert
Burnett, George, 12.
Chapman, Russell, 10.
Chapman, Earl, 12
Cochran, Robert, 8.
Cushman, Ralph, 7.
Ewing, Earl, 12.
Foote, Catherine, 11.
Geisenhaver, Carlyle, 10.
Hall, Willa, 11.
Hall, George, Jr., 8; brother of Willa.
Hart, Stanley, 10.
Hart, Robert, 9.
Hart, Vivian, 10.
Hart, Percy, 12.
Hart, Iola, 13.
Hunter, Loren, 14.
Huyck, Emory B., Superintendent of School.
Johns, Doris, 10.
Kehoe, Andrew, Treasurer of School Board.
Mcfarren, CLARENCE, 14.
Mcfarhen, NELSON, retired farmer.
Nichols, Emma, 12.
Richardson, Richard, 13.
Robb, Elsie, 11.
Smith, Glenn, Postmaster.
Weatherbee, Hazel, 20, teacher, of Okemos.
Witchell, Lucille, sister of Elizabeth
Woodman, Lenore, 9.
Zimmerman, Lloyd, 12.
Zimmerman, George, 10.
Children Huddle About Teacher
The explosion in the school came at 9:40 A.M., ten minutes after classes began. About 260 pupils were in the building. There would have been more but this is commencement week for the high school and few seniors were present. The attendance was kept down also by the fact that an examination was scheduled for 10 o’clock and those who were to take the examination had not yet arrived.
The explosion wrecked the entire north wing of the building, which housed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The building was in the shape of a “T”, the north wing corresponding to the upright of the letter.
Children in the rooms in the south wing were uninjured. In the first grade room the little ones were marching about singing to the music of a phonograph when the blast went off with a terrific detonation which shattered the windows of neighboring houses. The children shrieked and huddled about their teacher,
Miss Bernice Sterling. The air was choked with dust, but in the hall the voice of the principal, Floyd Huggett, was heard calling to the children.
Teachers Lead Children Out
Led by Huggett and the teachers, most of the children in the unshattered portion of the building were led to safety in orderly fashion. Some of those on the lower floor, frightened, jumped out of the windows. The glass had been broken by the explosion.
The villagers came running and at once started the work of rescue. Leading in the work was Superintendent Huyck. The workers brought scores of the ninety trapped children, moaning and shrieking, out of the ruins in their arms.
The piercing lamentations of mothers added to the heartrending cries of the sufferers and the terror-stricken screams of children.
About twenty minutes after the explosion Kehoe’s car was noticed at the curb in front of the school. No one knows how long it had been there. Kehoe was standing beside the car, talking with Huyck, who had stopped for a moment to rest.
Glen Smith, village Postmaster, and Nelson McFarren, an old man, were standing a few feet away. Suddenly, witnesses said, Kehoe took a rifle from his car and fired it into the rear seat, which apparently had been stacked with dynamite. There was a flash and a roar, and Kehoe was hurled through the air, his body dismembered. Huyck’s body likewise was blown to bits.
McFarren was killed outright. Both of Smith’s legs were broken and he was injured internally, he died later.
Aid Rushed to Stricken Village
About fifteen minutes before the school explosion, there was a blast in Kehoe’s home on a farm west of the town. The resulting fire spread to the barn, and both his home and barn were destroyed.
Following the school explosion, a call for aid was sent to Lansing. Every available doctor, nurse and ambulance was rushed to Bath. A detachment from the Lansing Fire Department was sent to do rescue work. St. John’s and Ovid also sent firemen.
State police took charge of the rescue work. They were aided by Lansing police and cadets from the Michigan State College at East Lansing.
Two large Lansing construction companies sent rescue parties. So many persons from the surrounding towns and cities drove to the scene of the disaster that the State Police were forced to take charge of traffic regulation and parking.
Automobiles were parked for two miles into the country on all roads leading into Bath. Two or three thousand people were crowded into the school grounds.
State Police, exploring the basement of that portion of the building undamaged by the explosion, found about 500 pounds of dynamite planted in such a manner that a portion was under every room in the school. If it had exploded the school would have been demolished and almost every child would have been killed or hurt.
The units in the unfired dynamite were wired together. Apparently they had been connected with those fired in the north section of the building.
Two lines of wire were found leading from the school across the yard. They ended near the spot where Kehoe’s car stood.
It is the theory of the State police that Kehoe fired the blast from his car by a coil. They declare the development of a short circuit in the line probably kept the dynamite in the south wing from firing and saved the children in that part of the school.
Razel (sic) Weberbee (sic), teacher of the third and fourth grades, was almost instantly killed. Severe injuries were suffered by Mrs. Blanch Hart, fifth grade teacher; Miss Eva Gubbins, sixth grade teacher, and Miss Nina Matson, English teacher in the high school.
Miss Matson was alone in the library on the second floor at the time and the other teachers were in their classrooms. The three injured teachers were taken to Lansing hospitals.
Governor Doffs Coat to Help
Governor and Mrs. Fred W. Green visited the scene late this afternoon. Governor Green threw aside his coat and assisted the crews who were busy pulling on long cables attached to the shattered walls. Mrs. Green assisted the nurses and friends who were working over the less seriously injured and offered sympathy to the grief-stricken mothers.
Kehoe is believed to have blown up the school house in revenge for the school board’s recent refusal to reduce his taxes. On this occasion Kehoe engaged in a bitter quarrel with other members of the board.
A mortgage on his farm home held by Mrs. Lawrence Price of Lansing, an aunt of his wife, was foreclosed recently. Mrs. Price, the wealthy widow of a founder of an automobile body manufacturing company, said at her home here today that Kehoe had made no effort to pay the mortgage, which had been placed on his property several years ago. The foreclosure, together with the quarrel with the School Board, is believed to have unsettled his mind.
Last night Kehoe called Mrs. Price from Bath and said that his wife, who had been in a Lansing hospital, had returned to her home at Bath, but that he was taking her to visit relatives in Jackson. Whether she died in the blast that wrecked the Kehoe home early today is not known. She has not yet been found.
Package Hunted as Dynamite
Fear that the devastating machinations of Kehoe’s unbalanced mind might not be limited to the school explosion was expressed by investigators, who said they learned that the farmer soon after 8 o’clock this morning sent by express a box, believed to have contained dynamite, to Glen Smith, a Lansing insurance agent, and his bondsman, as Treasurer of the School Board. The package is being hunted in express consignments.
Apparently they were the only thing he didn’t want destroyed.
Clare Gates, a twelve-year-old boy, between sobs, told being hurled through a rear window when the blast occurred. As he spoke, a boy beside him who had also escaped injury, wept. His younger sister was still buried beneath the debris.
An official of the Lansing unit of the Fisher Body Corporation, who chanced to be in Bath at the time of the explosion, ordered the Lansing plant closed and all workmen sent to aid in removing the bodies. The men were taken to Bath in motor buses. Other men were sent to Bath from the Olds Motor Works here.
Oscar Olander, head of the Michigan Department of Public Safety, sent all available State troopers to Bath to aid in rescue and in keeping order.
Charles Lane, the State Fire Marshal, has gone to Bath to begin an investigation.
The greatest disorder prevails in Bath. There is scarcely a family that did not have at least one child in school. After the explosion mothers thronged the school grounds and attempted to fight their way through the cordon of officers.
Survivors Tell of Explosion
Bath, Mich., May 18 (AP) – Survivors of the disaster described the explosion as an “awful crash”, followed an instant later by crashing of the walls and the falling of the ceilings. Many of the pupils were crushed at their desks as the tons of bricks and beams crashed down.
State police said Kehoe apparently had carried the dynamite into the school building during the night and arranged his wiring. He was seen to drive up in his automobile in front of the building soon after classes convened.
Completing his plans, he is believed to have run a wire from his automobile, in which other explosives were stored, to the charges in the basement. Rifle shells, several of which were found near the battered automobile, served as fuses,
Panic ensued among the school children with the first rumble of the blast. Terrified, both teachers and pupils rushed to the exits, only to be caught beneath the falling walls and ceiling, loosened by a second blast. Some leaped to the ground from lower floor windows while others stumbled over the bodies of their playmates in a mad rush for the doorways.
Clare Gates, 12, sobbed out a story of how he had been hurled through a rear window in one of the schoolrooms. The youth at the time was urging rescuers to remove the body of his younger sister, still buried under the ruins.
Bodies Hurled Against Walls
Miss Bernice Sterling and Miss Evelyn Paul, two teachers who escaped with only minor injuries, described their recollections of the blasts.
“Without warning”, Miss Sterling said, “this terrible explosion came. I saw the bodies of my children hurled against the walls or through the windows. Then I do not remember much what happened. The explosion stunned me and I could not do much until help came.”
“An awful crash”, followed by crashing in of the walls and the ceilings, was Miss Paul’s description of the blast.
News of the disaster spread rapidly, for the reverberations were heard in all parts of the village. Hardly a family in the village did not have at least one child enrolled among the school’s normal attendance of about 200.
Five children of one family were among the identified dead tonight. Frantic mothers rushed screaming to the school grounds and struggled wildly with volunteer workers in an attempt to enter the ruins in search of their children. Fathers, summoned from their places of employment, joined the horror-stricken crowd and confusion reigned.
The workers soon began carrying out the little forms of the pupils and placed them under blankets in a temporary morgue in the school yard. Finally, convinced that search in the ruins was being cared for by workers, the parents turned to a survey of the silent forms in the school yard morgue.
A moan from a mother or a stifled cry here and there from a father as a blanket was lifted testified that another search was ended. Many of the mothers and fathers clasped in their arms the bodies of their children and carried them to their homes, refusing the services of ambulances and hearses that came from surrounding towns.
Other Pitiful Scenes in Yard
Other pitiful scenes, without the spectre of death, were enacted in other parts of the school yard. Other fathers and mothers found their children injured, and still others were overjoyed at finding theirs unscathed.
The search of some of the parents was not ended until a trip to Lansing found their little ones undergoing treatment in hospitals there.
News of the tragedy also spread rapidly through the surrounding farming community and provided anxious moments for scores of farm homes, for many of the school pupils came here in buses which made regular stops along the highways. Farmers came in from the fields and soon the roads were dotted with automobiles scurrying to the village.
With the arrival of more rescue workers, the task of moving the tumbled mass of brick and timbers was made more systematic. The roof, which was shattered, and the piles masonry were torn down and removed.
State Police checking over the ruins of Kehoes farm building late today found a charred home-made battery manufactured from a spark plug, a small can of gasoline and a coil. Several hundred feet of wire were attached to the device, and it is believed this was the mechanism used to wreck his home.
A sign on a fence in the rear of the farm bore the words “Criminals are made and not born”.
As the work of digging into the wreckage continued, a farmer, clad in soil-stained clothing, sat weeping beside the bodies of two of his small sons who had been carried from the building about the time he arrived from his home.
For more than an hour he sat in that position refusing to stir and would not allow the bodies to be moved until he arranged to take them to the farm home.
The body of Miss Weatherbee was found pinned under a heavy wreckage of timbers, which also held the broken bodies of many of her small pupils.
Kehoe was a graduate of Michigan State College and was considered an expert electrician. His neighbors considered him a good farmer, for his lands were well kept and his buildings well furnished. He had no children.
Recounting the man’s characteristics tonight, neighbors recalled that he had appeared intelligent, but with a tendency toward being pugnacious. Several controversies with members of the School Board and the Superintendent, they continued, appeared to have left him morose during recent weeks.
The mortgaging of his farm and subsequent foreclosure added to the condition, it is believed.
The Erie Daily Times, May 18, 1927
Scores Of Children Killed As Madman Wrecks School With Blast Of Dynamite
Heart-Rending Scenes Enacted As Parents Find Crushed Kiddies
By International News
Bath, Mich., May 18 – Fifty to seventy-five persons are believed to have been killed in the consolidated school explosion. One report was that the maniac was killed in the basement of the school by a premature explosion.
By Foster Eaton
United Press Staff Correspondent
Bath, Mich., May 18. – Explosion of dynamite mysteriously planted under the foundation of the Bath Consolidated grade school here Wednesday took an estimated toll of between 30 and 40 young lives and completely demolished the west wing of the two-story brick structure.
Two hours after the west wing collapsed, state troopers working under Charles Lane, chief of the fire marshal’s division, reported they had found ten sticks of the explosive with slow fuses still burning under the east wing of the school.
Discovery of the additional explosive admittedly averted augmenting the worst tragedy that ever befell this rural village, seven miles north of the capital of Michigan where the wounded were rushed in ambulances to hospitals.
The explosion which wrecked the west wing of the school at the height of the morning session was said to have been the third in Bath early Wednesday, the first occurring at the home of A.E. Kehoe, sub-postmaster, and the second virtually obliterating Kehoe’s automobile in which he was sitting at the curb in front of the school.
Kehoe, with E.E. Huyck, principal of the school, were listed among the adult dead while the toll of pupils was estimated at more [than] thirty. Glen Smith, postmaster of the town, was fatally injured and taken to a Lansing hospital where he died shortly before noon.
Immediately after the explosion the little village of 300 population was a scene of frenzied, panic stricken activity as word followed the report of the explosion itself that many of the pupils in the school had been killed.
The only telephone line out of the town was at once commandeered by authorities and kept busy calling for firemen, doctors, nurses and ambulances.
Find Tragic Scene
Meanwhile nurses and physicians who arrived from Lansing found a tragic scene at the school where in one row 21 small bodies had been laid out while rescuers tore away at the ruins in an effort to extricate additional bodies. The injured were at once transferred to ambulances and sent to Lansing, seven miles by county road.
Work of the physicians and nurses [was] hampered by the heart breaking search of parents for their children. Parents went from group to group and the general rescue activity was frequently interrupted by the sobbing of a mother who had found what she feared most to find.
Heartrending Scenes Enacted
Standing above a huddled form beneath a blanket, a mother and father were clasped in each others arms, both in tears. They had been led to the spot by a friend. A blanket was raised and the father turned the mother’s face away in an effort to spare her. His convulsive sob, however, told the story.
But the mother turned in time to see a second blanket raised and beneath it the form of another of her children. The mother collapsed in the arms of the father just as he, too, fainted, dropping at the feet of their two children.
Work With Wounded Children
None of the parents, exhausted from frantic search of the ruins, were given medical attention as all of the available physicians were working with the wounded children. When adults collapsed they were either ignored or turned over to whatever attention those witnessing the tragedy could proffer them.
Injured Children Rushed to Hospital
By United Press
Lansing, Mich., May 18. – Fourteen casualties from the Consolidated school explosion at Bath were brought to the Edward W. Sparrow hospital here before noon Wednesday and immediately overtaxed the available emergency facilities.
The first 12 children to be brought to the hosptial were Howard Hoffman, Lester Stovell, Evan Gubbins, Earl Chapman, Ivan Eschpruth, Carl Steepleton, Otila Nichols, Florence Huster, Ava Sweet, Martha H. Richardson, Ida Delen and Lee Mast. The children’s ages range from 7 to 13 years.
Shortly after noon two aditional injured were brought to the hospital. They were June Hoffman, sister of Howard, and Lloyd Babcock.