Cleveland Elementary School shooting (San Diego)

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Cleveland Elementary School shooting
LocationSan Diego, California, USA
DateJanuary 29, 1979
TargetStudents and faculty at Cleveland Elementary School
Attack typeSchool shooting, murder
Weapon(s)Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle
Deaths2
Injured (non-fatal)9
PerpetratorBrenda Spencer
 
  (Redirected from Brenda Ann Spencer)
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Cleveland Elementary School shooting
LocationSan Diego, California, USA
DateJanuary 29, 1979
TargetStudents and faculty at Cleveland Elementary School
Attack typeSchool shooting, murder
Weapon(s)Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle
Deaths2
Injured (non-fatal)9
PerpetratorBrenda Spencer

The Cleveland Elementary School shooting took place on January 29, 1979, in San Diego, California. Shots were fired at a public elementary school. The principal and a custodian were killed. Eight children and a police officer were injured. A 16-year-old girl, Brenda Ann Spencer (born April 3, 1962), who lived in a house across the street from the school, was convicted of the shootings. She was tried as an adult, and pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was given an indefinite sentence and remains in prison.

During the shooting, a reporter phoned houses near the school looking for information about what was going on. He reached Spencer, who freely admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. When asked why she was doing what she was doing, one of the things she was said to have told him was "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."[1] The alleged comment was widely publicized; Spencer later said she did not recall making the remark.

Brenda Ann Spencer[edit]

Brenda Ann Spencer
Brendaannspencermugshot.jpg
Spencer in 1996
BornBrenda Ann Spencer
(1962-04-03) April 3, 1962 (age 51)
San Diego, California
ParentsWallace Spencer
Dot Spencer

Spencer lived in the San Carlos neighborhood of San Diego, California in a house across the street from Grover Cleveland Elementary School, San Diego Unified School District.[2] Aged 16, she was 5' 2" tall, unusually thin, and had bright red hair; a classmate described her as "pretty crummy looking".[3][4][5] Acquaintances later said Spencer expressed negative attitudes toward police, and had talked about shooting one.[4] Teachers described her as introverted; sometimes they inquired if she was awake. Later, during tests while she was in custody, it was discovered Spencer had an injury to the temporal lobe of her brain, attributed to an accident on her bicycle.[6] Spencer excelled in photography, winning first prize in a Humane Society competition.[7]

After her parents separated, she lived with her father, Wallace Spencer, in virtual poverty; they slept on a single mattress on the living room floor. Police later found half empty alcohol bottles throughout the house. In 2001 she accused her father of having drunkenly subjected her to beatings and sexual abuse.[8] He said the allegations were not true.[9] Spencer is said to have self-identified herself as "having been gay from birth."[10]

In early 1978, staff at a facility for problem pupils, which Spencer had been referred to due to truancy, informed her parents that she was suicidal. That summer Spencer was arrested for shooting out the windows of the Cleveland Elementary with a BB gun, and burglary. In December a psychiatric evaluation arranged by her probation officer recommended Spencer be admitted to a mental hospital due to her depressed state, but her father refused to give permission. For Christmas 1978 he gave her a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a telescopic sight and 500 rounds of ammunition.[9][11] Spencer later said: "I asked for a radio and he bought me a gun." When asked why he might have done that, she answered, "I felt like he wanted me to kill myself."[10][12] However, classmates later said she enjoyed hunting.[1]

Shooting[edit]

On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, Spencer began shooting from her home at children who were waiting outside Cleveland Elementary School for principal Burton Wragg to open the gates.[2] She injured eight children; Burton Wragg was killed while trying to help the children. Custodian Mike Suchar was killed while trying to pull Wragg to safety.[11] A police officer responding to a call for assistance during the incident was shot in the neck as he arrived.[11]

After firing thirty rounds of ammunition, Spencer barricaded herself inside her home for nearly seven hours. While there she had a telephone conversation with a journalist who reported that she had said "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day." She later also spoke with police negotiators, telling them those she had shot made easy targets, and that she was going to "come out shooting."[11] Classmates later said she had told them she was going to "do something big to get on TV."[1] Spencer has been repeatedly reminded of these statements at parole hearings.[13] Ultimately, she surrendered.[10][11] Police officers found beer and whiskey bottles cluttered around the house, but said Spencer did not appear to be intoxicated at the time of her arrest.,[11] Spencer was cited as the inspiration for the song "I Don't Like Mondays," written by Bob Geldof for his band the Boomtown Rats, which was released later that year.[14] I Don't Like Mondays was also the title of a 2006 television documentary about the event.[15]

Imprisonment of Spencer[edit]

Spencer was tried as an adult, and pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life imprisonment. In prison Spencer was diagnosed as an epileptic; she has received medication to treat epilepsy and depression while at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.[16]

Under the terms of her indeterminate sentence, in 1993 Spencer became eligible for hearings to consider her suitability for parole. She has been unsuccessful at four Board of Parole Hearings. In practice, very few of those convicted of any murder obtained parole in California before 2011.[17] At her first Board of Parole Hearing Spencer said she had been a user of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crime, and that the tests showing she did not have drugs in her system when taken into custody must have been falsified. At a hearing in 2001, Spencer said her father had beaten and sexually abused her. The parole board chairman said that, as she had not previously told any prison staff about the allegations, he doubted whether they were true.[18]

In 2009 the parole board ruled Spencer would be denied parole, and would not be considered for the next 10 years. She will become eligible to have a Board of Parole Hearing in 2019.[19][20]

"I Don't Like Mondays"[edit]

Cover of the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays", inspired by the shootings

Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats had a major hit with a song inspired by the events, written and performed soon after news of the shooting in San Diego. Titled "I Don't Like Mondays", it spent 4 weeks in the UK's #1 slot and was also popular in the United States, although local radio stations in San Diego refused to air the track for years after the shooting.

Follow-up[edit]

Almost exactly 10 years later there was another shooting at another school named Cleveland Elementary, this one in Stockton, California. Five students were killed and 29 were injured. The event was a "grim reminder" to survivors of the 1979 shooting, who described themselves as "shocked, saddened, horrified" by the eerie similarities to their own traumatic experience.[21]

San Diego's Cleveland Elementary School was closed in 1983, along with a dozen other schools around the city, due to declining enrollment. In the ensuing decades it was leased to several different charter and private schools.[22] The site currently houses the Magnolia Science Academy, a public charter middle school serving students in grades 6-8.[23]

Other female perpetrators[edit]

Laura L. Lovett, a founding co-editor of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth and an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argued in a CNN opinion essay that the San Diego shooting was overlooked by society because the perpetrator was a female. Lovett said that society can learn from cases of attacks instigated by women.[24]

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "School Sniper Bragged Of "Something Big To Get On TV"". AP. January 30, 1979. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "School Shooter Brenda Spencer Denied Parole". CBS 8 news. Aug 21, 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ January 30, 1979 Los Angeles Times "Lonely Girl Conceals Violent Fantasy"
  4. ^ a b "Sniping suspect had a grim goal". The Milwaukee Journal. January 29, 1979. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of School Crime and Violence - Page 454
  6. ^ School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies, and Concepts, By Thorsten. Seeger, Peter. Sitzer. Page 251
  7. ^ School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies, and Concepts, By Thorsten. Seeger, Peter. Sitzer. Page 251-253
  8. ^ The Milwaukee Journal - Jan 29, 1979
  9. ^ a b School Shootings, 2013, Nils Böckler, Thorsten Seeger, Peter Sitzer, Wilhelm Heitmeyer
  10. ^ a b c School Shootings, 2013, By Nils Böckler, Thorsten Seeger, Peter Sitzer, Wilhelm Heitmeyer Page 257
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Sniping Suspect Had a Grim Goal". The Milwaukee Journal. January 30, 1979. pp. Pt. I, 4. Retrieved February 29, 2012. 
  12. ^ [dead link] "'I Don't Like Mondays'". Boomtown Rats.co.uk. 2003. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012. Retrieved February 29, 2012. , with details about the case.
  13. ^ School Shootings, 2013, By Nils Böckler, Thorsten Seeger, Peter Sitzer, Wilhelm Heitmeyer Page 250 and 257
  14. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara (September 29, 2005). "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Music (I Don't Like Mondays)". Snopes.com. Retrieved April 17, 2007. 
  15. ^ "I Don't Like Mondays (TV 2006)". IMDb. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  16. ^ School Shootings, 2013, By Nils Böckler, Thorsten Seeger, Peter Sitzer, Wilhelm Heitmeyer Page 257
  17. ^ In California, Victims’ Families Fight for the Dead, NYT August 19, 2011
  18. ^ School Shootings, 2013, By Nils Böckler, Thorsten Seeger, Peter Sitzer, Wilhelm Heitmeyer Page 248
  19. ^ Staff (June 19, 2001). "Parole Denied in School Shooting". Associated Press (via USA Today). Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  20. ^ Staff (August 13, 2009). "School Shooter Brenda Spencer Denied Parole". KFMB-TV. Retrieved December 15, 2012. 
  21. ^ Granberry, Michael (January 19, 1989). "Victims of San Diego School Shooting Are Forced to Cope Again 10 Years Later". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  22. ^ "Closed Public School Sites in San Carlos". kuraoka.org. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Home page". Magnolia Science Academy. Retrieved 26 March 2013. 
  24. ^ Lovett, Laura L. (December 21, 2012). "Opinion: Female Mass Shooter Can Teach Us About Adam Lanza". In America (blog of CNN). Retrieved December 22, 2012.

External links[edit]