Mass violence outbreaks
A deranged individual enters a school in a peaceful, picturesque American community, intent on committing unspeakable violence.
The man carries out his attack, leaving numbers of schoolchildren dead, a town in shock and people wondering why.
It’s the familiar tragedy today in Newtown, Conn. But it’s also a tragedy from 85 years ago that most people have no idea took place — in a time long before television and the Internet, when American society and culture were vastly different.
Indeed, the attack in Bath Township, Mich., remains the single-largest loss of life from an assault on an American school. Of the 45 people who died, 38 were children.
In the assault 85 years ago, a primary difference was the method for the madness — bombs instead of guns. But just as people are perplexed now why a 20-year-old man with no criminal history would attack Sandy Hook Elementary School with an assault-type rifle, so in the early 20th century people were mystified why a school caretaker would bomb his rural Michigan community’s school.
In both cases the assailant took his own life. On Friday in Newtown, Conn., Adam Lanza shot himself after his rampage amid schoolchildren. In Bath Township, Mich., killer Andrew Kehoe blew himself up in a car after his carnage.
The attack on the Michigan school in 1927 raises a question about the perception of mayhem today. A string of modern-day shootings, dating from the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado 13 years ago, leaves many people saying that a disturbing change has infected American society to prompt regular spasms of mayhem.
But are the attacks in places such as Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Blacksburg, Va., much more frequent today, or is the public perception of them skewed by the blitz of 24-hour news channels and the saturation of awareness through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The incidence of mass violence may not have increased over time, but the exposure of people to mayhem is growing exponentially, said Julie Wiest, an assistant professor of communication at High Point University.
“Violent crime in general is down and has been going down for some time. Violence in schools has been going down, and dropped substantially in the ‘90s. So this is not a characteristic of modern times,” said Wiest, author of the book “Creating Cultural Monsters: Serial Murder in America.”
The perception that mayhem has become more commonplace may stem from the popularity of social media, added to two decades of 24-hour news coverage of tragedies.
“At one time, only our news channels were saturated with these reports when something like this would happen. But now we are seeing it everywhere – when we look at our phone, when someone is commenting on our Facebook page or Twitter page. The exposure has increased dramatically – you can’t avoid it now,” Wiest said.
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