Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nobody remembers Andrew Kehoe

After fatally shooting his wife, the man set his farm buildings ablaze. Then he went to the nearby elementary school and detonated explosives he had secretly hidden there, killing dozens of children. Finally, when rescuers arrived, he set off a bomb inside his vehicle, incinerating himself and the school superintendent and wounding several others. When it was all over, Andrew Kehoe had killed 45 people (including himself) and injured 58.

Oh, my God, you're thinking. Was this a copycat killing linked to the Virginia Tech carnage? Another Columbine? Actually, no -- Andrew Kehoe did his damage nearly 80 years ago, on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, MI.

His motive, it was determined, was anger over a property tax increase. Talk about an overreaction!

A couple of people told me about this -- my co-worker Sarah Watson and Jeff McCleese of Appomattox, who has spent 20 years in law enforcement.

"The Virginia Tech thing was terrible," McCleese said, "but it wasn't the worst school massacre ever. I think it's important to point out that bad things have always happened."

The difference was, there was no mass media in 1927. Today, Andrew Kehoe would have had his picture on the cover of Time Magazine. Back then, the shock waves from his deranged deed hardly spread outside of Michigan.

I saw a lot of good things in last week's coverage of the Tech shootings, but also the usual tendency to oversimplify. To me, it was a bit disturbing when TV commentators and newspaper reporters kept talking about Seung-Hui Cho "setting a record," as if this was some kind of sports event.

Moreover, the fact that Cho was given a hard time by classmates in high school was advanced as a logical explanation of what he did. So why doesn't everyone who hated high school (about half the population) run amok?

Truth is, we'll never know what went through his head. Maybe he was paranoid, and thought everyone on the Tech campus was out to get him. Perhaps it was a case of delusion plus gun plus opportunity.

Can we prevent something like this from happening again? Not very likely. I would prefer to focus on the courage and grace the Virginia Tech students demonstrated in the face of adversity and sadness -- and hundreds of media interrogators.

The good news is that crazed killers account for only a tiny percentage of those who depart this earth prematurely. Like being eaten by a shark or struck by lightning, it's a matter of being in a very unlucky place at the wrong time.

That's how it was in 1927, when Andrew Kehoe had his own deadly little tantrum.


Anonymous said...

Interesting information, thanks!

dixiechic said...

I hope that in time the name Seung-Hui Cho will mean no more to us than the name Andrew Kehoe. However, it is sad that none of us remembered the 45 people he killed. In today's world we are too quick to forget and move on to the next tragedy. It has only been 5 years since 9/11 and already many have moved on and are unwilling to do what is necessary to prevent it from happening again. I suspect that the same is true of the VT tragedy.

stephanie said...

this is great information and a true testimony to the media's power over perception.