“He was a quiet man. Reclusive, really. But he didn’t seem capable of this.”
“Kept to himself.”
“Come to think of it, he was a little odd…but all this…”
The stories after horrific mass killings are nearly always the same. While circumstances and locations differed — students in Colorado or Virginia, federal workers in Oklahoma — all the victims were killed, targeted without mercy by loners no one would have noticed the day before.
Television and radio pundits have waxed eloquent discussing the recent slayings at Ft. Hood, Texas, by a heretofore unknown Major Nidal Malik Hasan. This signifies the topping off of unrelenting pressure in society, they shriek. We’re at a node in time where everything is going haywire, opines another. Millennial madness!
Arnie Bernstein of Bath Massacre: America's First School Bombing (University of Michigan Press) knows better. He’s written an harrowing account of the first American school bombing, which took place in 1927. It was that long ago that a seldom-noticed, odd, but harmless-seeming man began planning the deaths of 38 of innocent children and nine adults in the town of Bath, Michigan.
There’s no modern explanation for that. No "end times" or Mayan prophecies. Maybe total havoc just pops up in American DNA from time to time.
Bath Massacre is almost like a look into the mind of total psychopath. While not quoting perpetrator Andrew Kehoe directly, Bernstein takes the reader on a journey of strange “accidents” in his family, minuscule slights from neighbors that he doesn’t forget, and an all-out hatred for the Bath School’s superintendent that has no rhyme or reason.
The reader watches as Kehoe orders large amounts of dynamite from Lansing, MI (perfectly legal — and normal for farmers who needed to blow up tree stumps). He learns the intricacies of electricity and wiring. When he becomes the school’s treasurer, he also becomes the handyman. People bumped into him at the oddest times And something was askew in the basement:
"Smith (the janitor) wasn’t sure, but in the fall of 1926, he had a feeling there was a leak in one of the basement pipes. While Superintendent Huyck shined a flashlight along the ceiling, Smith followed the length of pipe with his eye. Nothing. No leak, no rust, no loose joints. He didn’t notice something else in the ceiling that was out of place."
Compare this with 2009’s Major Hasan buying civilian guns (perfectly legal) even though he works in a job that rife with guns every day. He also paid for a six-month lease up-front. Not illegal, but not the usual way of renting.
Each man had plans, probably months in the works, that made such simple actions deadly.