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Column: There be monsters

Posted: March 19, 2018 3:49 p.m.
Updated: March 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.

It seems I spend most of my time trying to make sense of all the noise these days.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, the topic of the day seems to be school safety. The question becomes, “what can we do to make our schools safer?”

I would have to say, in a guardedly hopeful manner, “quite a bit.”

Indeed, I think locally, we are working to do more, although what the final result will be remains to be seen. Still, things like adding School Resource Officers (SROs), increasing access to mental health care, and streamlining and hardening our school access points are all pretty good starts.

I’m not quite as sanguine about arming school employees -- far too much potential for distraction and disaster, in my book -- and besides, that’s not what I think I want to pay teachers, librarians, coaches, administrators and janitors to do.

The biggest problem is inherent in the next question: How do we prevent these heinous incidents from happening again?”

I’m afraid the answer continues to be a right harsh, blunt, “We can’t. Not really.”

Oh sure, we can try. We should try. Indeed, 99 out of a hundred times, the SROs, the counselors, the I.D.-hardened access points, our plans, are sufficient.

But riddle me this? How in the world do you truly stop a monster? That is, how does one enter the mind of a creature that is utterly evil? Because, let’s face it; that’s exactly what we have to do. And even then, it may not be enough.

I go back to 1927, to the little town of Bath, Michigan, where a local would-be politician, wannabe mover and shaker, failed farmer/businessman and, as it turned out, utterly villainous creep named Andrew Kehoe spent the last six to eight months of his life loading dynamite into the basement of the local grammar school. As a farmer, he had legal access to dynamite -- indeed, he was apparently known as “the dynamite farmer” because he often got work helping other farmers blow stumps out of the ground to clear arable land. As a former electrician, he was able to rig up a detonation system no one would know about and that would function remotely. And as a school board member and relatively prominent citizen, he had free rein to access the school anytime and anywhere.

On the morning of May 18, 1927, he entered the history books by perpetrating the first and worst school massacre in U.S. history. Some 44 people died, 38 of them children. While he did not use a gun to kill his victims directly, he did drive up to the school after the initial blast, in his pickup truck loaded with more dynamite, called the school superintendent over, then stepped out of the truck and fired the rifle into his load of dynamite, killing himself, the superintendent, and several more people, including a child that had survived the initial blast.

But first, he killed his wife and two of his horses and burned down his house and barn. Interestingly enough, the authorities found all this, along with a sign on a fence on his property that said, “Criminals are made, not born.”

The guy was, by all accounts, angry; angry with the bank for moving his farm into foreclosure. Angry with the community for not electing him to the post of county treasurer; at one point he was on the school board and actually served as treasurer for a time. Angry with anyone, but anyone who disagreed with anything he ever said -- such as his fellow school board members who voted to raise taxes to pay for the school he blew up.

Short story: local, fairly prominent citizen with a giant, bruised ego goes on the fritz. Longer story: said meglomaniac wasn’t really crazy -- he was able to carry out a horrifyingly detailed, well-thought out, long-term plan. Final, truly terrifying story: he was someone everyone knew, generally liked, and for the most part even trusted.

Such a nice boy, so quiet, right?

How do you plan for that?

I don’t know, either.

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