Bath, MI School Disaster, May 1927
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.
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 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 born 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 WEATHERBY 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 New York Times New York 1927-05-19