On January 29, 1979, 16-year-old
Brenda Spencer killed two people and wounded nine when she fired
on San Diego's Grover Cleveland Elementary School with a
.22-caliber rifle from her family's house across the street.
The two victims were Principal Burton Wragg and
custodian Mike Suchar. Eight students and a police officer were
wounded. Spencer, the original high-school rampager, pleaded
guilty to first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon and
was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. When asked why she
did it, she said the often quoted: "I just don't like Mondays." At
the time she also told negociators, "It was a lot of fun seeing
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
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
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." The alleged comment was widely publicized; Spencer later
said she did not recall making the remark.
Brenda Ann 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.
Aged 16, she was 5' 2" tall, unusually thin, and had bright red
hair; a classmate described her as "pretty crummy looking".
Acquaintances later said Spencer expressed
negative attitudes toward police, and had talked about shooting
one. 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.
Spencer excelled in photography, winning first prize in a Humane
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. He said the allegations were not true. Spencer is
said to have self-identified herself as "having been gay from
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. 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."
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. 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. A police officer
responding to a call for assistance during the incident was shot
in the neck as he arrived.
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." 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."
Spencer has been repeatedly reminded of these statements at parole
hearings. Ultimately, she surrendered. 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.
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. I Don't
Like Mondays was also the title of a 2006 television documentary
about the event.
Imprisonment of Spencer
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.
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.
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 beat 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.
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
"I Don't Like Mondays"
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.
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
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. The site
currently houses the Magnolia Science Academy, a public charter
middle school serving students in grades 6-9.
Other female perpetrators
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
San Diego Sniper Is Denied
Brenda Spencer, who killed two adults at a
school in 1979, can ask again in 2009.
By Lance Pugmire - Los Angeles Times
September 28, 2005
A state parole board on Tuesday rejected a bid
for freedom from Brenda Spencer, who killed two adults and wounded
eight children in a 1979 sniper attack on a San Diego elementary
Spencer, 43, was sentenced to 25 years to life
in prison in 1980; this was the third time her bid for parole has
been rejected. The two-member parole board at the California
Institution for Women in Chino ruled that she could not request
parole again until 2009.
"It's a very good result and we're very happy,"
said Richard Sachs, the San Diego County deputy district attorney
who argued for Spencer's continued incarceration.
Spencer was 16 on the morning of Jan. 29, 1979,
when she fired 36 shots from a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle
that her father had just given her as a Christmas present.
Spencer fired her rifle, fitted with a scope,
from her home in the San Diego community of San Carlos across the
street at Cleveland Elementary School, just as students were
arriving for class.
When Principal Burton Wragg, 53, ran to tend to
a wounded child, Spencer shot and killed him. Custodian Michael
Suchar was killed trying to assist Wragg. A San Diego police
officer was wounded.
When contacted by a San Diego Evening Tribune
reporter by telephone during the six-hour police standoff, the
freckle-faced Spencer said: "I don't like Mondays. This livens up
the day." The comment later was the inspiration for a hit song by
the Irish rock band the Boomtown Rats.
The San Diego County district attorney said
Spencer had told prison officials she felt unwanted, and envied
children who had someone to protect them.
At Tuesday's hearing, Spencer apologized for
the shootings and said the board should consider a history of
sexual abuse. Spencer said in a 1993 parole hearing that she was
under the influence of drugs, although prosecutors say toxicology
tests showed otherwise.
"She expressed remorse, but she came across as
fragile, someone who's not all together," Sachs said. "She says
she doesn't remember the crime and she provided no insight into
Sachs said Spencer mutilated herself by
branding her body with a heated paper clip after her breakup with
"That demonstrates she can't handle the bad
things that happen to her," Sachs said.
Attorney Carrie Hempel, who represented Spencer
at the hearing, did not return phone messages seeking comment.
Wragg's widow made a videotaped plea seeking to
stop Spencer from being paroled, and Charles Miller, a 9-year-old
student on the day of the shooting and now a San Diego County
probation officer, testified how being shot had altered his life.
Miller "spoke of losing his sense of security
and well-being seeing his principal and custodian gunned down, and
then feeling himself being shot, and his body going numb," Sachs
Woman Imprisoned for '79
School Slayings Withdraws Parole Request
Crime: Brenda Spencer acts just minutes before
hearing. She killed two and wounded nine in San Diego sniper
attack when she was 16.
By Tom Gorman - Los Angeles Times
January 21, 1998
CHINO, Calif. — She won worldwide notoriety in
1979 when, as a freckled 16-year-old proclaiming, "I don't like
Mondays," Brenda Spencer sprayed a San Diego elementary school
playground with .22-caliber semiautomatic sniper fire.
Spencer's onslaught, as she crouched in her
parents' home across the street, left the school's principal and
janitor dead and eight children and a police officer wounded.
On Tuesday--just minutes before a parole board
hearing at which she would have been confronted by one of her
victims--Spencer withdrew her request for prison release. Instead,
she settled in for at least three more years behind bars.
Her state-appointed attorney, Keith Stanton,
said outside the California Institution for Women that Spencer was
remorseful for the killings, but was "adjusting well" to prison
and decided to waive the hearing "for tactical reasons" he
declined to detail.
A San Diego County prosecutor was prepared to
tell the parole board, meeting here at the prison where Spencer is
confined, that the 35-year-old remains a public threat.
"She knew she would be denied [parole]. There's
nothing she could say at this time to sway the board," said San
Diego County Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Crisanti. "We think she
should still do life. She killed two people. How can she repay
that? How could we take that risk [of killing] again, if she were
For Spencer, who is 18 years into her prison
sentence of 25 years to life, the next opportunity for parole will
come in 2001.
Among those who planned to argue against
Spencer's release Tuesday was Charles Miller, who at the time of
the shooting was a 9-year-old fourth-grader. He recalled being
dropped off at school by his mother and, moments later, seeing the
principal and janitor lying on the ground before he blanked
out--after being shot in the chest.
Miller, who today is a San Diego County
probation officer, said he still suffers emotional pain from the
shooting. "It's very vivid in my mind," he said, talking to
reporters outside the prison.
"It's not really hatred," he said of his
feelings about Spencer. "But she should remain in prison for
The hearing was Spencer's second opportunity
for parole; she was rejected in her first effort five years ago.
At the 1993 hearing, she contended that she was
under the influence of drugs when she began firing on Cleveland
Elementary School in the San Diego neighborhood of San Carlos.
Toxicology tests proved otherwise, Crisanti said.
Spencer's surviving victims were not informed
about the 1993 parole hearing and none attended.
Amid the shooting spree, Spencer unwittingly
was reached on the telephone by two reporters from the San Diego
Evening Tribune who, while attempting to call neighbors, hadn't
realized that they had reached her house.
She told them that she had opened fire because,
"I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."
Her comment inspired the Boomtown Rats, an
Irish rock group, to write the song "I Don't Like Mondays."
She finished the interview by announcing, "I
have to go now. I shot a pig [a police officer], I think, and I
want to shoot some more."
Armed with 200 rounds of ammunition and a rifle
that she had received the previous month from her father as a
Christmas gift, Spencer opened fire about 8:30 a.m. Jan. 29, 1979,
just as students were arriving for class.
The sound was mistaken for firecrackers or caps
until bodies fell to the ground. Principal Burton Wragg, 53, was
shot and killed as he ran toward one of the wounded children, and
custodian Michael Suchar, 56, was struck and killed as he ran to
Spencer surrendered to SWAT officers 6 1/2
hours later--after firing about 40 shots and telling negotiators
that the children were "easy pickings . . . like shooting ducks on
a pond," Crisanti said. "She said she liked to watch them squirm
after they were hit."
At the women's prison in Chino, Lt. Bob Sebald
described Spencer as a well-behaved inmate who is learning how to
make electrical repairs to small appliances.
"Of course she's been good," Crisanti said.
"She's in a confined setting."
Cleveland Elementary was closed in 1983 because
of dropping enrollment. A plaque memorializing the victims remains
at the site.
Victims of San Diego School
Shooting Are Forced to Cope Again 10 Years Later
By Michael Granberry - Los Angeles Times
January 19, 1989
Christy Buell was "shocked, saddened,
horrified" by the headlines.
Tuesday, a killer
walked onto a schoolyard in Stockton and opened fire on children,
killing five and wounding 29 with bursts from a semiautomatic
rifle. A teacher was also wounded in the assault, which lasted
only three to four minutes.
For Buell, the news
was a grim reminder, an ugly blast of history repeating itself.
She was one of eight children wounded Jan. 29, 1979--almost
exactly a decade ago--when teen-age sniper Brenda Spencer opened
fire on schoolchildren in San Diego.
Part of the
creepy flashback for Buell was learning that the school in
Stockton bears the same name as the one in San Diego--Cleveland
"I was scared for those people,"
Buell said Wednesday, adding that she was "shaking" just in having
to discuss the incident in an interview. "I felt really sorry for
them, because I know exactly what they're feeling . . . . I went
through the same terrible thing."
Buell, 19, was
then a 9-year-old fourth-grader still coping with the death of her
mother, who lost the battle to leukemia when her daughter was 2.
Buell said the grief her father felt--losing a wife, almost losing
a daughter--was unimaginable.
Buell now works at
a day-care center not far from where the shootings occurred. Her
work with children has made her wonder all the more why someone
would ever want to harm them. Buell was shot twice by Spencer--in
the abdomen and in the lower back. She was hospitalized for a
month and spent 18 months recuperating.
no other way to say it," she said with a quivering voice. "I'll
just never get over it."
She suffers no physical
repercussions, only the psychological fallout, which she compared
to a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome, not unlike that
experienced by some veterans of the Vietnam War. The same can be
said not only by victims but also their parents.
Lee Selvig is an attorney, a family law specialist in San Diego.
His daughter, Monica, now 18, was shot in the stomach, the bullet
exiting her back close to the spine. She suffers no lasting
physical effects, although Selvig asked that Monica not be
interviewed; he would speak for her.
going to deny the trauma," he said. "Even before yesterday
(Tuesday), the incident was constantly on the minds of the family.
We haven't been able to shake it. I heard Michael Mantell (a San
Diego psychologist) interviewed on radio this morning, and he
pointed out something really beneficial. He said families must
emphasize the positive at a time like this. I have to say it
improved our family's relationships, drew us closer together. It
\o7 had \f7 to. It also impressed upon us how fragile our lives
really are. It woke us up to our own mortality."
Selvig said the school's bearing the same name carried an eerie
afterglow that was almost indescribable.
'Happening All Over'
"It's strange, but that
alone made it seem the nightmare was happening all over again," he
said. "It made \o7 our \f7 incident close and all too
Selvig sees as one of the saddest
tragedies Monica's losing of an illusion. Much like children in
Belfast or Beirut, he said, those wounded at Cleveland Elementary
in San Diego 10 years ago were shocked into the world of adult
reality without being allowed to make the transition gradually.
"A child has the right to grow up feeling that they're out of
harm's way," Selvig said. "They have a right to a childlike aura
of invincibility. Brenda Spencer took that away from Monica
Julie Robles, 20, suffered a gunshot
wound to the side that day in San Diego. Doctors marveled that the
bullet that struck Robles passed right through her--almost hitting
her kidneys but striking no major organs and leaving her with only
a minor injury.
The psychological wound was
"The Stockton thing was terribly upsetting and disturbing," she
said. "I was very upset by the date being so close to the 10th
anniversary of our shooting and the name of the school being the
For a decade, Robles has been traumatized
by news accounts of snipers or gun-wielding psychopaths walking
into a public place and opening fire. She wrestles with the
feelings for days, and, just when it seems she's over it, she
hears about a Stockton.
Thoughts seem to leap
out of nowhere that tear at her spirit and toy with her
equilibrium. She actually thinks about Brenda Spencer from time to
time, wondering if the woman is safely locked up--she is, in the
California Institution for Women in Frontera--and whether she will
ever return to do Robles harm.
From time to time, she has the
strange task of informing a new friend that once, on a school
ground in San Diego, she was shot in an incident that made the
"I tell them, and they just look
at me stunned," Robles said. "Their reaction is one of total
disbelief. They say, 'No \o7 way\f7 , Julie.' They just can't
For Christy Buell, the saddest
memory is that two men she knew--good men--were slain that day.
Spencer murdered Principal Burton Wragg and custodian Michael
"The loss of two men that put their
lives in danger to save children . . . that's the hardest part for
me," Buell said, "the part no one will ever undo."