The San Ysidro
McDonald's massacre was a
mass murder that occurred on
1984, in a
McDonald's restaurant in the
San Ysidro section of
United States. The
shooting spree resulted in 22 deaths (including the
perpetrator James Oliver Huberty) and the injuries of 19
James Oliver Huberty
James Oliver Huberty was born
Canton, Ohio on October 11, 1942. When Huberty was
three he contracted
polio, and even though he made a progressive
recovery, the disease caused him to suffer permanent
walking difficulties. In the early 1950s, his father
bought a farm in the
Pennsylvania Amish Country. Huberty's mother refused
to live in the Amish country, and soon abandoned her
family to do sidewalk preaching for a
Southern Baptist organization. His mother's
abandonment would leave a profound effect on the young
James, who became sullen and withdrawn.
In 1962, Huberty enrolled at a
Jesuit community college, where he earned a degree
sociology. He would later receive a license for
embalming at the
Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in
While at Mortuary School, he met his
wife Etna, whom he married in 1965 and had two daughters
– Zelia and Cassandra. The Huberty family settled in
Massillon, Ohio, where James worked as an undertaker at
the Don Williams Funeral Home. In 1971, the Huberty
family was forced to relocate to Canton, after their
house in Massillon was set ablaze.
While living in Canton, Huberty found
work as a welder for Union Metal Inc. Huberty and his
wife Etna had a history of violent behavior. At a
birthday party for a neighbor's daughter, Etna
instructed her daughter Zelia to physically assault one
of her classmates. In a related altercation with the
child's mother, Etna threatened the woman with a 9 mm
pistol; although she was arrested, the Canton police
failed to confiscate the weapon. At one point James shot
his German Shepherd in the head when a neighbor
complained about the dog damaging his car.
Domestic violence was
frequent in the Huberty household, with Etna once
filling a report with the Canton Department of Children
and Family Services that her husband had "messed up" her
jaw. To pacify James and his bouts of violence, Etna
would produce tarot cards and pretend to read his future,
thus producing a temporary calming effect.
As a result of a motorcycle accident,
Huberty had an uncontrollable twitch in his right arm, a
condition that made it impossible to continue as a
welder. In January 1984, the Huberty family left Canton
and briefly stayed in Tijuana, Mexico before settling in
San Ysidro, a community of San Diego, California. He was
able to find work as a security guard in San Ysidro,
however he was dismissed from this position two weeks
before the shooting. His apartment was three blocks away
from the site of the massacre.
On the day before the massacre,
Huberty had called a mental health center. The
receptionist misspelled his name on intake as "Shouberty".
Since he had not claimed there was an immediate
emergency, his call was not returned. Huberty and his
family went to the San Diego Zoo on the morning of July
18, and had eaten at a McDonald's in the Clairemont
neighborhood in northern San Diego a few hours prior to
Before Huberty left for McDonald's,
his wife Etna asked him where he was going. Huberty
responded that he was "hunting humans". Earlier that day
he had commented to his wife, "Society had its chance."
When questioned by police, Etna gave
no explanation as to why she failed to report this
bizarre behavior. A witness, who spotted Huberty as he
left his apartment and proceeded down San Ysidro
Boulevard with two firearms, phoned police, but the
dispatcher gave the reporting officers the wrong address.
Huberty used a 9 mm
Uzi semi-automatic (the primary weapon fired in the
massacre), a Winchester pump-action 12-gauge shotgun,
and a 9 mm Browning HP in the restaurant, killing 22
people and wounding 19 others. Huberty's victims were
predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American and ranged in
age from 8 months to 74 years.
The massacre began at 3:40 p.m. and
lasted for 77 minutes. Huberty had spent 257 rounds of
ammunition before he was fatally shot by a SWAT team
sniper, Chuck Foster, perched on the roof of the post
office adjacent to the restaurant. Initially, law
enforcement and emergency crews responded to the
McDonald's located at the U.S. International Border with
Tijuana at 3:15 p.m., and 15 minutes later changed
directions after they learned that the shooting was
actually taking place at the McDonald's next to the post
office approximately 2 miles away.
Although Huberty stated during the
massacre that he had killed thousands in Vietnam, he had
never actually served in any military branch. Eye-witnesses
stated that he had previously been seen at the Big Bear
supermarket and later at the U.S. Post Office. It was
surmised that he found the McDonald's a better target.
Due to the number of victims, local
funeral homes had to use the San Ysidro Civic Center to
hold all the wakes. The local parish, Mount Carmel
Church, had to have back-to-back funeral masses to
accommodate all the dead.
Elsa Herlinda Borboa-Firro, 19 (McDonald's
Neva Denise Caine, 22 (McDonald's
Michelle Deanne Carncross, 18
María Elena Colmenero-Silva, 19
David Flores Delgado, 11
Gloria López González, 23
Omar Alonso Hernández, 11
Blythe Regan Herrera, 31 (mother
of Matao Herrera)
Matao Herrera, 11
Paulina Aquino López, 21 (McDonald's
Margarita Padilla, 18 (McDonald's
Claudia Pérez, 9
Jose Rubén Lozano Pérez, 19
Carlos Reyes, 8 months
Jackie Lynn Wright Reyes, 18 (mother
of Carlos Reyes)
Victor Maxmillian Rivera, 25
Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas, 31
Hugo Luis Velazquez Vasquez, 45
Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis,
Aida Velazquez Victoria, 69
Miguel Victoria-Ulloa, 74 (husband
of Aida Victoria)
On September 26, 1984, McDonald's
tore down the restaurant where the massacre occurred and
gave the property to the city. They in turn established
the Education Center as part of Southwestern Community
College. This location was built in 1988 as an expansion
of its off-campus locations. In front of the school is a
memorial to the massacre victims, consisting of 21
hexagonal granite pillars ranging in height from one to
In 1986, Etna Huberty, his widow,
unsuccessfully sued McDonald's and Babcock and Wilcox,
James Huberty's longtime former employer, in an Ohio
state court for $7.88 million, claiming that the
massacre was triggered by the combined mixture of
McDonald's food and work around poisonous metals. She
alleged that monosodium glutamate in the food, combined
with the high levels of lead and cadmium in Huberty's
body, induced delusions and uncontrollable rage.
An autopsy did reveal high levels of
the metals, most likely built up from fumes inhaled
during 14 years of welding. Autopsy results also
revealed there were no drugs or alcohol in his system at
the time of the killings.
References in popular culture
The murders are reconstructed in
The Sett (1996), a book by Ranulph Fiennes which
deals with the subject of revenge killing.
Singer Kristin Hersh references
Huberty in the Throwing Muses song "Hate My Way," a
track from the band's eponymous debut album.
Time of terror
chronology of events during the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre that took
21 lives on July 18, 1984
4 p.m. to 4:09
Police communications receives first telephone call
of shooting at McDonald's.
First police -- four patrol units and a supervisor --
First description of suspect is received and
Officer Mike Rosario, first on the scene, calls out
over his radio: "Shots being fired at me. Returning fire with two rounds.
Request code 10."
Paramedic unit rushing to the scene is halted by
gunfire. Meanwhile, San Diego Fire Department dispatcher alerts
LifeFlight emergency crews at UCSD Medical Center to prepare to dispatch
4:10 to 4:19
Command post is established two blocks from shooting
scene. Full SWAT alert issued.
North side of McDonald's is surrounded by police.
Fire Department dispatcher radios LifeFlight again
and orders a unit dispatched.
Dr. Tom S. Neuman, a pilot, and three nurses board
LifeFlight helicopter No. 2 and take off.
Restaurant is surrounded by uniformed police and
4:20 to 4:45
Second description of suspect is broadcast, his
Second LifeFlight helicopter leaves helipad with
doctor and two nurses.
Third description of suspect broadcast.
SWAT Commander Lt. Jerry Sanders, at a reception in
Mission Valley, is notified of shootings after his pager failed to work.
First SWAT sniper team to arrive at the scene
relieves officers at north side of restaurant.
All officers around McDonald's relieved by SWAT team
Two witnesses escape through back door of restaurant
and are debriefed.
Final, more accurate description of Huberty is
Witnesses verify more than a dozen people still
inside, although it's undetermined how many are alive. Confirmation that
suspect is alone and armed with multiple weapons.
Second SWAT sniper team in place on the post office
Sniper team on north side of building asks if "green
light" -- orders to shoot to kill -- is authorized.
5:05 to 5:17
SWAT Commander Sanders, en route to the scene in car,
hears on radio that green light is given to sharpshooters and rescinds
Sanders, on the scene, gives green light.
Suspect fires volley of shots through windows toward
San Ysidro Boulevard.
SWAT officer on ground level at post office fires two
rounds at suspect in response to repeated gunfire.
SWAT marksman Charles Foster, firing from atop the
post office just south of McDonald's, kills Huberty with single shot
from a telescope-sighted Remington .308-caliber rifle
Please help us,'
wounded boy cried
The Boston Globe
July 19, 1984
SAN YSIDRO, Calif. - "Please help us," a
young boy begged a reserve police officer yesterday, moments after he
was wounded by a man who burst into a McDonald's restaurant and raked
customers with gunfire.
Juan Echavarria, who lives two blocks from the
shooting scene and was off duty at the time, said he drove past the
restaurant shortly after 4 p.m. and saw three injured youngsters
outside, one lying face down, another face up and the third sitting on
Philadelphia Daily News
July 19, 1984
A recently unemployed security guard who gunned down
20 people in a busy McDonald's fought with his wife an hour before the
bloody rampage and followed her and their daughter to the restaurant, a
neighbor said today.
James Oliver Huberty, 41, walked into the McDonald's
within sight of his San Ysidro area apartment about 4:30 p.m. yesterday
(7:30 p.m. in Philadelphia) and opened fire with three weapons in the
worst single-day mass slaying in U.S. history before a police sniper
killed him with one well-placed shot.
Boy, 11, played dead
Philadelphia Daily News
July 19, 1984
An 11-year-old boy who rode his bicycle to McDonald's
to get a soft drink yesterday and was caught in James Huberty's gunfire
"played dead" for an hour and saved his life.
Joshua Coleman was on his bicycle when someone tried
to push him away after hearing shouting. But the boy was wounded and
told family members later he was so scared, he didn't move for an hour
until SWAT team members rescued him.
Killer's rage was
Philadelphia Daily News
July 19, 1984
James Oliver Huberty, who slaughtered 20 people in a
McDonald's restaurant yesterday, was known to neighbors as a heavy drug
user with a violent streak, a man given to shooting from his balcony and
flying into rages over minor problems.
In Ohio, where he was born and lived most of his life,
he was remembered as "odd," "weird" and a loner. He
at one time was licensed as a funeral director and embalmer and his
former boss said that Huberty "didn't like being around the
I just came back to
pray,' the man said
The Boston Globe
July 20, 1984
A mangled red bicycle lay in a bush. A woman's blood-
splattered white shoe stood undisturbed on the pavement.
Cars that belonged to Wednesday's patrons were still
in the parking lot, surrounded by glass from their own shattered windows
and from the restaurant's exploded doors and windows.
McDonald's puts its
ads on hold
The Boston Globe
July 20, 1984
OAK BROOK, Ill. - McDonald's Corp., saying it was
"shocked" by the mass murder at one of its California
restaurants, asked advertising outlets nationwide yesterday to delay
broadcast of its commercials, a company official said.
Burger King, one of its biggest competitors, quickly
Who knows what
fueled his rage?
The Boston Globe
July 20, 1984
Omar Hernandez and David Flores, two 11-year-olds
running for their bicyles in the restaurant parking lot, died first, cut
down by a hail of bullets from the Uzi submachine gun wielded by the man
in the camouflage pants and maroon T-shirt.
Their school chum, Joshua Coleman, survived, but only
by playing dead on the asphalt as he bled from his gunshot wounds.
An angry man on the
The Boston Globe
July 20, 1984
James Oliver Huberty existed on the raw edge of rage,
overflowing with anger at a world where the odds seemed always stacked
In Ohio's hardscrabble industrial belt, where he was
thrown out of work by a plant closing, Huberty kept an arsenal of
weapons he used to menace his neighbors, owned two vicious dogs he let
run free and once threatened to shoot everyone.
Killer fit 'soldier
of fortune' profile
Philadelphia Daily News
July 20, 1984
In almost every respect, James Oliver Huberty fit the
profile of what a noted psychiatrist has called the "Soldier of
He was a "radical" who fretted about nuclear
annihilation and a survivalist who stockpiled "thousands of
dollars" worth of food in his home, according to those who worked
with Huberty at his last job in Ohio.
The San Ysidro
The Boston Globe
July 21, 1984
Saddened and dismayed Americans will undoubtedly spend
weeks wondering what drove James Oliver Huberty to go on a rampage and
turn a restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., into a charnel house.
The massacre that left 22 people dead and 18 wounded
is the quintessential American horror story, and a poignant reminder
that we are all vulnerable to acts of random violence.
McDonald's may be
Philadelphia Daily News
July 23, 1984
McDonald's is considering a request from grieving
residents of a Mexican border town where a berserk gunman killed 21
people that the restaurant be turned into a memorial for the helpless
Scores of people gathered outside the McDonald's in
suburban San Ysidro to demonstrate their feelings that the restaurant
should be closed and turned into a "Memorial Park for the
Closing hailed at McDonald's
Philadelphia Daily News
July 25, 1984
The widow of McDonald's founder Ray A. Kroc stepped
from a chauffeured limousine yesterday outside the San Ysidro McDonald's
restaurant where 21 people were killed last week, and chatted briefly
with a woman who had successfully fought against reopening the outlet.
Gloria Salas, 38, a leader of the predominantly
Mexican community's grassroots effort to have the site converted into a
memorial park for the victims of gunman James Huberty, said afterward of
San Ysidro killer's
brain won't be studied
Philadelphia Daily News
July 25, 1984
The brain of mass killer James Oliver Huberty will be
destroyed rather than given to doctors for research because there was no
reason to believe they could learn anything useful, Coroner David Stark
"We will not be releasing it," Stark said.
"We will keep it for about 90 days. We routinely keep blood and
tissue for 90 days unless there are still questions.
Deadly Uzi: The Philly Connection
Importer of big-bang
gun maintains a low profile
Philadelphia Daily News
July 31, 1984
The Uzi semiautomatic rifle that was James Oliver
Huberty's deadliest weapon in the gruesome McDonald's mass murder in San
Ysidro was purchased legally, law enforcement officials insist.
If that's the case, the Uzi was brought into the
country by Action Arms Ltd. of 1120 Orthodox St. in Philadelphia. The
company, owned by Harry Stern, is the sole U.S. importer of the Uzi,
made famous in the 1956 Arab-Israeli war and carried today by U.S.
Secret Service agents.
massacre, Healthy baby goes home
Philadelphia Daily News
August 8, 1984
Four-month-old Karlita Maria Felix, whose wounded
mother thrust her into the arms of a stranger during the San Ysidro
McDonald's massacre July 18, was discharged from Children's Hospital
The infant was carried out of the hospital by her
parents, both of whom recovered earlier from serious wounds. Karlita had
suffered shotgun pellet wounds in the head, right chest and abdomen. The
infant had been in critical condition.
Gunman's widow: Calif.
slaughter might have been avoided
Philadelphia Daily News
August 16, 1984
Mrs. Etna Huberty, widow of the man who killed 21
people at a McDonald's restaurant, said yesterday she thinks the
slaughter might have been prevented if her husband had received the
psychiatric help he sought.
"A psychologist or a counselor could have gotten
him to a medical doctor - a psychiatrist - and he could have given him
medication," Mrs. Huberty told the San Diego Union in the first
interview she has given since the massacre.
Building torn down
at massacre site
Philadelphia Daily News
September 26, 1984
Wrecking crews with bulldozers today began knocking
down the McDonald's restaurant building where 21 people were killed July
18 in the worst one-day massacre by a single gunman in U.S. history.
McDonald's has deeded the land beneath the restaurant
to the City of San Diego, stipulating that the company name not be
associated with future use. The firm also specified that the site in San
Ysidro must never be utilized for a restaurant again.
Coast man kills 20 in rampage at a restaurant
16 Are Wounded Before Police Slay Gunman
July 18, 1984
SAN YSIDRO, Calif. - An unemployed
security guard armed with three guns strode into a McDonalds's
restaurant in this town on the Mexican border today and killed 20 people
and wounded 16 others before a police sharpshooter shot him dead.
The Dead included customers at the McDonalds, several
of them children, and a number of employees.
Sgt. Robert Nunley of the police said the gunman,
carrying a bag of ammunition, had ordered those in the restaurant to lie
prone. When an employee picked up a telephone to call the police, the
gunman began firing at those on the floor. Later, he fired
indiscriminately at adults and children outside the restaurant.
"It's an absolute massacre," said Comdr.
Larry K. Gore. "It's a total disaster inside the facility."
He Had recently Lost a Job
The gunman was identified by the San Diego police as
James Oliver Huberty, 41 years old, of San Ysidro. Sergeant Nunley said
Mr. Huberty was married, with two children, and had moved to San Ysidro
from Ohio seven months ago. The San Diego Police Chief, Bill Kolender,
said Mr. Huberty was dismissed from a job as a security guard at a
condominium a few days ago. Mr. Kolender said Mr. Huberty was wearing
fatigue trousers and a dark shirt at the time of the shootings. Mr.
Huberty's wife, who was not immediately identified, was being questioned
by the police tonight.
Toll May Be Largest for a Day
United Press International said an initial check of
its records showed that the killings were the largest toll by a single
gunman in a single day in the nation's history. In 1966, Charles J.
Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 31 when he fired from atop a tower
on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
The gunman apparently opened fire inside the
restaurant about 4 P.M. The police said he was armed with a
semiautomatic rife, a shotgun and a pistol and withstood a police siege
for more than an hour.
One unidentified witness said: "Even people on
the floor were moaning. He would go through the crowd picking them off
one by one. Even children on bicycles were gunned down as they tried to
ride to safety."
The gunman's motive was not immediately known. A San
Diego police officer, Arthur Velasquez, one of the first at the scene,
said an injured person had told him the gunman yelled "that he had
killed many in Vietnam and he wanted to kill more." However,
Sergeant Nunley said there was no confirmation of that report.
The restaurant, on a two-lane road parallel to
Interstate 5, is just north of the Mexican border and 16 miles south of
downtown San Diego. It is surrounded by small businesses, a post office,
a bank and several houses.
Officer Velasquez said that when he arrived, "the
suspect was firing every-where, at anything that moved." He added:
"I saw bodies lying outside, adults and children. Some were still
alive. I sadly witnessed him killing a man laying next to his wife who
had already been shot. Some of the dead and wounded were said to be
children in a McDonald's playground next to the restaurant. Seventeen of
the bodies, including the assailant's, were inside the restaurant and
four were outside.
Commander Gore said the gunman "was shooting
everything that was in sight, including a victim on the freeway, several
people outside the restaurant, 10 or 11 inside the facility."
"I'm told that he came into the restaurant carrying rifles and just
began shooting - everything he could shoot. It's just a tragic, tragic
The wounded were taken to at least three hospitals.
Stacy Rosebrough, a spokesman for Bay Hospital Medical Center in nearby
Chula Vista, said seven of the wounded were at Bay Hospital, all in fair
condition or better. Two of the wounded there were identified. Juan
Acosta, 33, of Tijuana, Mexico, suffered gunshot wounds in the left knee
and arms and was said to be in fair condition. Felix Astaifo, 26, of San
Diego, sustained minor injuries of the chest and neck.
Vera Brewer, nursing supervisor at University of
California San Diego Hospital, said three persons were admitted at the
hospitals. Maricela Flores., 23, of San Diego, was in critical condition
with wounds of the face, chest and pelvis. Ronald Herrera, 25, of
Orange, Calif., was in critical condition with neck and chest wounds. An
unidentified woman was in critical condition with a wound in the head.
Miss Brewer said the hospital was receiving many calls
from people who believed their friends or relatives were at the
restaurant at the time of the shooting. Robert Boland, a spokesman for
Community Hospital in Chula Vista, said his hospital had received five
of the wounded. Francisco Lopez, 22, of San Ysidro, and Guadalupe del
Rio, 24, of Tijuana, suffered gunshot wounds and were treated and
An 11-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, whose
names were withheld, also suffered gunshot wounds and were admitted at
the hospital. An unidentified baby of 4 to 6 months old was reportedly
passed to a bystander by her wounded mother was taken to the hospital
with scattered gunshot wounds and was listed in stable condition.
The police went to the scene after getting a report
that a child had been killed outside the restaurant. Mike Rosario, the
first officer on the scene, summoned help and several police cars
quickly arrived. More than 10 police officers crouched behind their cars
as the gunman kept picking out targets. "I could see the suspect
walking back and forth," said Officer Velasquez. "He'd been
shooting several rounds off at a time."
Slain by Special Police team
The Siege did not end until a police special weapons
and tactics team arrived. The team was immediately given a "green
light" to shoot the gunman, Officer Velasquez said. A police
sharpshooter, firing a rifle from the roof of the post office next door
to the restaurant, fired the shot that killed the gunman.
Chief Kolender described the scene as a
"sickening massacre," adding, "It's the most terrible
thing I've ever seen in my life, and I've been in the business 28 years.
The gunman evidently spared some of the customers inside the restaurant.
Officer Velasquez estimated that 30 people were inside the restaurant
when the shooting began. "It's was terrible," said one of the
survivors, a McDonald's employee. "If anybody moved, he just shot
All the windows in the restaurant were shot out.
Emergency workers removed several bodies from inside the restaurant and
took survivors to a nearby building for emergency treatment.
Killer talked of 'shooting somebody'
July 20, 1984
James Oliver Huberty is remembered as a man
who never smiled, a man who liked guns. But mostly he will be remembered
by this: "He was always talking about shooting somebody,"
Terry Kelly, who once worked beside him, said Thursday.
Huberty, 41, was an angry man who took his family, his
private arsenal and his bitterness to search for a better life away from
this northeastern Ohio town, where a distressed economy had cost him his
job. Acquaintances in this Rustbelt area were not altogether surprised
when they heard that Huberty had killed 21 people in a McDonald's
restaurant near San Diego Wednesday.
Former co-worker Kelly, now a Starke County deputy
sheriff, recalled that when Huberty lost his job, at the Babcock &
Wilcox plant in nearby Canton in October 1982 "he said that if this
was the end of his making a living for his family, he was going to take
everyone with him. He was always talking about shooting somebody."
A portrait of Huberty, drawn from law enforcement
officials and those who knew him, reveals an uncertain man who shifted
directions several times in his life. One trait remained consistent,
however: Huberty struck others as a loner who did not much like people.
Huberty was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1942 but lived
all but the last six months of his life five miles away in Massillon, an
Ohio steel manufacturing community of 32,000. In Canton, Brother Dave
Lombardi, minister of the Trinity Gospel Temple, said he believed that
Huberty's problems went back to childhood, when the boy's mother
deserted the family to become a religious missionary to an Indian
"He had real inner conflicts," said
Lombardi, who later performed the marriage ceremony for Huberty and his
wife in 1965. "He was pent up; he was a loner, and he had kind of
an explosive personality. When you talked to him you knew he had nervous
anxiety and was wound up inside."
Shortly after Huberty's mother left and his parents
divorced, his father married a young schoolteacher with children of her
own. "He didn't get along with her," said a neighbor, who
asked not to be identified. "When he came home, he'd get out of his
car and fire off 10 or 12 shots to warn them he was coming in."
In 1964 and 1965, while attending Malone College in
Canton part-time, Huberty became an apprentice undertaker at the Don
Williams Funeral Home. Williams recalled Thursday, "He was a very
clean-cut chap and he was more or less of a loner type. He would rather
just be off by himself."
Williams said Huberty was better at embalming bodies
than dealing with clients. "I told him that I thought he was
pursuing the wrong profession. He didn't seem to have the personality
for it," Williams said. Nevertheless, he obtained a embalmer's
license. Huberty married his wife, the former Etna Markland, during this
time, Williams said, and the couple had two daughters, Zelia, 11, and
In the 1970s, Huberty's fortunes went up and down. He
graduated from Malone with a bachelor's degree in sociology after an
on-again, off-again course of study there. Then Hubertys' first
Massillon home burned down in 1971. Records show that he lost a gun
collection that included a submachine gun, a carbine and a Browning.
As a welder for Babcock & Wilcox he reportedly
earned between $25,000 and $30,000. He bought a home in this town of
32,000, and a six-unit apartment building next-door, according to James
Aslanes, a co-worker at B&W. Aslanes got to know Huberty there but,
before very long, he became wary of him. "I met him at work,"
Aslanes recalled. "We first became friendly when he found out I was
studying kung fu. He was inquiring about how to put his daughter into
the program, for some kind of self-defense."
The two men visited each other's homes. Aslanes, a gun
owner himself, noticed that Huberty's house was filled with guns:
shotguns, rifles, handguns and an Israeli-made Uzi machine gun. While
Aslanes said their mutual interest reinforced their friendship, one
incident caused him concern. "We went shooting one time with the
Uzi," he said, "and he began shooting at a rock. It was
dangerous. The bullets might come back to us. It shocked me that anybody
that knowledgeable about guns would do that."
"He would talk about rapists," Aslanes said.
"He mentioned what should be done with them: that they should cut
off their fingers, they should cut off their hands and tie them up by
their testicles. Things like that frightened me." A year earlier,
Huberty lost his welder's job here and, he said, his reason for living.
Former neighbors remember Huberty as unfriendly.
"The only real spark I got out of him was the
time I asked him about his gun collection," said Mike Mauger, who
owned a tavern across the street from Huberty's home.
Among the folks in the quiet, residential neighborhood
where he lived for 10 years, Huberty was known to have a gun collection
and menacing guard dogs. His wife, Etna, once was charged with
threatening neighbors with a handgun when they interfered with her
sleep, police records show.
Police officer Ron Davis remembers the Hubertys
because of the hundreds of complaints police received about the family,
mainly concerning their noisy dogs. Despite the number of complaints,
police only had one reported arrest of Huberty -- for drunk and
disorderly conduct at a service station in 1980. He was fined and paid
When calls came into the police station on minor
matters, Sgt. Don Adams recalled, officers often joked that it was
"the Hubertys again" because of the numerous complaints that
Huberty filed against others and the complaints filed against him. Adams
said Huberty once was accused of shooting a dog with an air gun.
When Huberty was laid off in the fall of 1982 after 10
years' employment, Aslanes said he became concerned about making his
house payments. "He became despondent," Aslanes said. "He
worried. He blamed the whole country for his misfortune. He said that
Ronald Reagan and the government were conniving against him. The working
class were going to have to pay for this inflation. . . . He became so
discouraged that he wrote the Mexican government and applied for
"He bought a lot of food, survival foods. He had
tons and tons of ammunition and when he left Massillon, I was under the
impression that he was going to Mexico, a couple of miles south of
Tijuana. I'm shocked he was in the San Diego area." Linda Goodnough
said other people on the block here warned her not to associate with the
Hubertys when she moved in, saying Huberty was known to have a gun
collection and that Mrs. Huberty had said her husband kept a gun under
Once, after an incident involving his daughters and
other neighborhood children, Huberty called their house and told her
husband, "You just wait. I'm going to get you when you are alone
sometime," Goodnough said. Mauger said he sometimes saw Huberty
inside his house, the front door ajar, holding a shotgun. He said
neighbors complained about the noise created by the German shepherd dogs
Huberty kept in a pen behind his house.
"In the bar business, you tend to judge people
quickly," Mauger said in Ohio. "My instant reaction was that
he's strange, weird."
A haunting memory
Survivors of McDonald's massacre cope
July 17, 1994
The image has come to epitomize that hot,
sunny afternoon 10 years ago when a 41-year-old unemployed father of two
named into a McDonald's and began shooting.
Three boys -- two of them dead -- lie sprawled on the
sidewalk outside the restaurant, their bodies full of lead, their bikes
fallen over their feet. The surviving boy, Joshua Coleman, is now 21, an
ironworker who helps build highway bridges and high-rises.
The shadow of July 18, 1984 -- and of the 21 adults
and children who died in Huberty's rampage -- haunts many who were there
that day. But Coleman insists that he is not among them. "I know
exactly the day it happened, and I think of my friends every time,"
he says. "As far as feeling sorry for myself or anybody, I can't
let that stop my life. Nothing bothers me. Death doesn't bother
me." He remembers it well: He and his two buddies, Omar Hernandez
and David Flores, had gone to buy doughnuts. But Joshua wanted ice
cream, too, so they tooled their bicycles over to McDonald's.
They were on the sidewalk when 11-year-old Joshua
heard the man yell. He turned and he was hit. Lying on the broiling
pavement, his right side riddled with shotgun pellets, his pals nearby
and the gunman still shooting, Joshua had the presence of mind to play
dead. How? "I don't know," he says. "I got lucky. The
fact he kept shooting at us. . . . You hear about an accident and
sometimes you think, 'What would you do if you were there?' And I always
thought I would play dead."
Huberty's paroxysm ended after an hour and 17 minutes,
when he was killed by a police sharpshooter. In the aftermath, Joshua
Coleman's parents enrolled him at a new school for a year to avoid
scrutiny. He never saw a therapist. Neither he nor his parents believed
he needed it. He still keeps a big shoebox of letters from the hundreds
of people who saw the picture of him lying on the ground. "You have
a lot of courage," they said. And "Be strong."
He could have been a hero. If he hadn't run, maybe --
just maybe -- Ken Dickey, a 20-year-old college student working behind
the McDonald's counter, could have saved somebody's life. "I
remember sitting in a chair for a long time, for days afterwards, and
thinking 'What could I have done?' "I could easily have grabbed a
metal object and bashed this guy across the head. That would have been
the hero's route. I didn't feel I showed grace under pressure. I ran to
a room in fear, hoping I didn't get shot."
When the shooting started, Dickey and a male co-worker
fled to a basement utility room. Later, three female workers joined
them. Eventually, a woman with a baby came down, and then a bleeding
man. They huddled in the hot, stale basement with gunfire sounding
overhead. Finally, police knocked at the door, and though they were
fearful, they opened it. Officers told them to put their hand on the
shoulder of the person ahead and to look only at the wall to their left
as they exited. He remembers seeing the spatters of blood.
Today, Dickey lives in the small town of Payette,
Idaho, with his wife and their 2-year-old daughter. He teaches high
school chemistry. He comes back to the San Diego area only to visit his
parents. "Sometimes I go four or five months and I don't think of
it at all," he says.
For a year Aurora Pena-Rivera couldn't talk about it.
About being shot in the jaw. About losing two friends and an aunt and a
baby cousin. About them lying dead around her. Simple things would
trigger awful memories. "I remember I went to a restaurant and this
man was drunk and he was yelling. He got mad with one of the waiters,
and I just broke down. I thought about that other man." Therapy
made things worse. No more doctors, she told her mother. On her own, she
learned to accept the loss, the guilt, the unanswered questions.
"Before I used to ask, 'Why did it happen and why
us?' I would say, 'Why her? Why the baby? She doesn't have any sins.'
"But now I see that I'm just being selfish. If it didn't happen to
us, it would have happened to someone else."
Aurora was 11. Her aunt wanted a fish sandwich. The
group of six relatives and friends was standing at the counter when
Huberty walked in; four died. Aurora lay on the restaurant floor, her
eyes closed tight, afraid to look. Then, like all kids, she got curious.
"I thought I heard him far away, so I opened my eyes and he saw me.
He walked to the trash can and he had some (guns) in there. He got his
shotgun. "That's when he shot me."
Now, Aurora is 21 and has a 9-month-old girl. She is
an administrative assistant for the Navy. Just the other day, at a
Kmart, Aurora saw Adelina Hernandez, mother of Joshua Coleman's friend
Omar. "She hugged me and kissed me and asked me how I was doing. I
told her I got married and she's like 'You got married already?'
"And my mom goes, 'Well, she's 21. She's the same age. . . .' She
(Mrs. Hernandez) goes, 'Oh, yeah, he would have been 21 too.' "
Adelina Hernandez is still surrounded by children --
she works at Sunset Elementary, the school Omar attended. The children
remind her of him. "It's good therapy," she says. "It's
my medicine." The exuberance and vitality of the children who call
her "Grandma" help Omar's mother each day. They help her
forget the sight of her lifeless little boy, and of the hard days that
followed. These days, the feelings are not so intense. She rarely gets
depressed. But when it becomes unbearable, Hernandez, 63, finds comfort
in a cassette tape she and Omar had made when he was 9.
Alternately playing the roles of reporter and
interviewee, they ask each other simple questions in Spanish: "What
is your name?" "Where do you go to school?" Tears
clouding her eyes, Hernandez says: "It's hard for a mom."
There were death threats. Etna Huberty's young
daughters were taunted at school, and they moved twice within a year of
the shootings. Today, at 52, she lives with her two grown daughters in
the working-class community of Spring Valley, 20 miles east of San
Ysidro. Her home is a brown trailer on a quiet street. Broken- down cars
and trucks clutter the driveway, next to an unkempt front yard. Etna
Huberty filed an unsuccessful $5 million lawsuit against McDonald's,
alleging that her husband's rampage was triggered in part by too many
Huberty has graying hair, cropped short. Her face is
drawn; her expression one of agitated exhaustion. She works as an
in-home nurse. She told a reporter in late June she hadn't yet paid her
rent. She was willing to do an interview for $400, she said. Two days
after the shootings, Huberty apologized for her husband. "Everyone
is wondering why he would do such a thing," she said in a
statement. "He was always very sad and lonely."
Huberty and his wife moved to San Diego just seven
months before, after he lost his job as a welder in Massillon, Ohio. In
San Diego, Huberty worked as a security guard. A week before the
shootings, he was fired because of "a general instability . . .
plus the fact that he was not performing his duties in a proper
manner." Huberty was a loner, those who knew him say. He could be a
troublemaker. He became loud and abusive to neighbors during a dispute.
He let his two German shepherds run loose. He liked guns. Co-workers
just laughed at him, a former boss said.
On July 17, he called a local mental health clinic
asking for an appointment. A receptionist took his name, but he never
got a call back. On the morning of July 18, Huberty went to court to
plead guilty to two traffic infractions. He and his wife and a daughter
then ate at the McDonald's across from the courthouse, miles north of
their apartment. Afterward, they went to the zoo.
They got home just before 4 p.m. Huberty kissed his
wife goodbye (she would later tell police that was unusual). Then, he
told her he was going to hunt people -- just one of the crazy things he
was always saying, she figured. Huberty loaded his guns, got in his car,
drove a block and parked. Toting an Uzi, a semiautomatic pistol and a
shotgun, he strode to the McDonald's; 257 rounds later, he was dead.
One man's massacre
On Wednesday 18 July, at about 4:00 P.M., Huberty, a
41-year-old unemployed man, walked through the golden arches of a
McDonald’s restaurant in the town of San Ysidro, on the
California-Mexico border. He was dressed in combat trousers and a black
T-shirt. Matching accessories included a semi-automatic rifle slung over
one shoulder, a canvas bag full of ammunition over the other, a 9-mm
semi-automatic pistol with a fourteen-shot clip tucked in his belt, and
a twelve-gauge shotgun in his hands.
A McDonald’s assistant, 16-year-old John Arnold,
standing by the service counter, glanced up and found himself looking
straight down the barrel of the shotgun: "Guillermo [a fellow
employee] said, ‘Hey, John, that guy’s gonna shoot you,’ "
Arnold later recalled. "He was pointing that gun right at me. He
pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Then he brought it down and
started messing with it." Arnold turned and walked away, disgusted
by what he thought was a sick joke.
Of the customers who had noticed Huberty’s entrance,
some headed immediately for the door, some shifted nervously in their
seats and some, presumably thinking Huberty was a harmless zany
"character" of one sort or another – a kiddies’
entertainer, perhaps, or a Rambo lookalike contestant – simply went
back to reading the overhead menus, eating their Big Macs or drinking
Outside, across the street, 11-year-old Armando
Rodriguez was staring intently at the restaurant. He had been kicking a
football about a few minutes earlier, but had left off the game when he
noticed a black Mercury Marquis pulling into the McDonald’s car park.
A heavily armed man had climbed out of the car and walked into the
restaurant. Now, as the bemused Armando watched, the man with the guns
was motioning with his hand for the people in the building to get down
on the floor. Some witnesses were reported to have said that Huberty
shouted, "I’m going to kill you all"; one young boy
reportedly said he yelled, "I killed thousands in Vietnam, and I
want to kill more," but police who interviewed the survivors
believed he simply ordered everyone to lie down. Armando Rodriguez was
still watching from outside. He saw a woman running for the exit and the
gunman turn and fire. The woman dropped to the floor.
John Arnold, who had walked away when Huberty first
entered the restaurant, was nicked by a shotgun pellet in the opening
volley of shots. A plate glass window shattered, bodies fell all around
him and Arnold dived under a seat. "I just pushed my head up
against the bricks. I scrunched into a ball. I tried not to breathe. I
just thought ‘Oh, please, don’t come over here.’ " He would
remain in that position, thinking that same thought, for the next
seventy-five minutes. Griselda Diaz and her young son, Erwin, also dived
to the floor during the first volley of shots. They managed to crawl to
a side door and safety.
Many other customers were not so lucky. Huberty calmly
fired off round after round. When one gun was empty, he moved on to
another. Most of the victims were hit within the first few minutes of
shooting. The first emergency call, from a McDonald’s employee, was
logged at 4:03 P.M. Other calls quickly followed. Betty Everhart, a
retired nurse who lived opposite the restaurant, had, like many people
mistaken the first shots for a car backfiring. But two men ran to her
door, telling her that somebody was shooting a gun and to call the
Meanwhile, McDonald’s employees in the kitchen,
wondering what the commotion in the restaurant was all about, soon found
out. Alicia Garcia was cooking chips when Huberty walked in. She turned
and ran downstairs to a cloakroom, taking two of her colleagues with
her. They were joined by other employees with the same idea. The small
group huddled together nervously while, upstairs, the firing continued.
Huberty shot dead the manager, Neva Caine, and rooted
out four other employees who had tried to hide. He fired on them from
close range and two girls were killed instantly. A third, wounded, tried
to crawl away, as did a young man, Albert Leos. Huberty pumped more
bullets into the girl, killing her, then found himself with an empty
magazine. He returned to the service counter, where his bag of
ammunition sat, and began reloading. Albert Leos, terrified that the
gunman would return at any moment to finish him off, tried to get to his
feet but was unable to do so. He had been shot four times – in the
left arm, the right arm, the right leg and the abdomen. Desperately, he
dragged and pulled himself across the kitchen floor, heading for the
steps to the basement.
But Huberty had plenty more targets to aim at – in
the restaurant, and in the playground and car park outside. Three
youngsters, Joshua Coleman, David Flores and Omar Hernandez, pushing
bicycles along the pavement in front of the building, suddenly collapsed
in a heap. Rafael Meza, an employee of an all-night grocery chain just
up the street, had run down to the McDonald’s soon after the gunfire
started. He tried to reach the boys but "somebody was shooting at
me with a pistol. Then all the windows started breaking. I hid behind a
truck… There were bullets flying everywhere… Everybody was screaming
and running around, they were just running for their lives… You could
see people getting shot and falling down, just like in a shooting
gallery that you couldn’t get out of, just like in the movies." A
couple and their 4-month-old daughter were hit, as were a couple in
their seventies, the oldest victims of the massacre.
When the first police car arrived at 4:07 P.M., its
windscreen and emergency lights were shattered in a barrage of gunfire.
The police officer alerted radio dispatch that a major siege was in
progress and requested a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. Inside
McDonald’s, though, bodies already lay everywhere. Some people played
dead. Most weren’t playing. "It’s an absolute massacre,"
Police Commander Larry Gore later told reporters. "It’s a total
disaster inside the facility." Huberty had systematically killed
staff and customers with no more concern than a slaughter-man killing
Victor Rivera, a maintenance man, had taken his wife
and daughter to McDonald’s. It was the little girl’s favourite
restaurant. Victor was shot dead. His wife and their 4-year-old daughter
were both wounded.
Jackie Wright Reyes, her 8-month-old son, a friend,
and Jackie’s 11-year-old niece had stopped off for a snack. The niece
was the only one of the quartet to come out of the McDonald’s alive.
Ron and Blythe Herrera had been on vacation with their
11-year-old son and were on their way home. Mother and son were killed.
Ron suffered seven gunshot wounds but survived.
Lawrence Versluis, a 62-year-old truck driver, was
having his coffee break. He had worked for the same local company for
almost forty years and was due to retire at the end of the week. Huberty
shot him dead.
In the restaurant and outside – in the car park and
the playground, among the comical pirate statues and other figures
familiar in McDonald’s advertisements – twenty-one people lay dead
or dying and nineteen lay injured. Out on a nearby eight-lane freeway,
Interstate 5, a motorist was shot and wounded. Meanwhile, inside, burger
cook Albert Leos had managed to haul himself down to the basement. His
colleagues, hiding there, tended him as best they could. Upstairs,
Huberty continued to roam the restaurant, firing sporadically.
Outside, the police closed off six blocks of San
Ysidro Boulevard and the Highway Patrol shut down Interstate 5. By 4:55
P.M. the SWAT team had assembled and taken up positions at the post
office to the south of the restaurant, at a doughnut shop to the north,
and on San Ysidro Boulevard to the east. McDonald’s tinted windows,
many of them now patterned with dense spiders’ webs of fractures, gave
appalling visibility for officers trying to assess the situation inside.
To make matters worse, from a tactical point of view, Huberty was
occupying high ground: when the restaurant was built, it had been
elevated some three feet, with a retaining wall running around three
sides. SWAT filed Commander Jerry Sanders was in a difficult position
and, until he could gain more information on the situation inside the
restaurant, had no option but to maintain a "red light"
condition: no firing unless the gunman tried to escape.
By 5:13 P.M. Sanders was sufficiently clear on the
position to proceed. There was just one man with a lot of guns. Many
people were dead, too many for witnesses even to begin to estimate the
number, but others were still alive. The gunman was no longer shooting
at the customers, though. He had turned his attention to police officers
outside. He was coming closer to windows and doors and, as he continued
to shoot, more and more glass panes were falling out of their frames. He
was leaving the interior of the restaurant – and himself –
increasingly exposed. Sanders changed the red light condition to green
– any sharpshooter seeing a clear shot at their man could take it.
SWAT sniper Charles Foster and his spotter Barry
Bennett had taken up a position behind a parapet on the roof of the post
office. There was a shot from the restaurant and another pane of glass
exploded outwards. Bennett caught a brief glimpse of the gunman. The
description matched the one he had just heard over his walkie-talkie.
"All right, mister, now we can do it," he said. Chuck Foster
gave his .308-calibre sniper rifle one final check.
At 5:17 P.M., four minutes after receiving the green
light, Bennett spotted the gunman again. He told Foster, "There he
is, right in the window. It’s him." Foster rose smoothly up from
behind the parapet and found Huberty in his sights. He drew in a breath,
held it, and gently squeezed the trigger. The single bullet crashed into
Huberty’s chest just above the heart, and tore through his body,
shattering the spinal column. A bullet fired simultaneously from an M-16
by an officer below Foster, and two bullets fired by a third officer
with a .38 revolver, all missed. Foster’s single shot was sufficient,
though, and Huberty dropped to the floor. In the eerie silence following
seventy-five minutes of gunfire, officers with binoculars observed
Huberty’s prone body (found to be alcohol and drug free at the
subsequent autopsy), waiting to make sure he was dead. Once they were
satisfied he was, SWAT personnel entered the restaurant.
The scene that greeted Jerry Sanders and his men would
come to haunt them. "It was like an awful still life," Sanders
told The Times later. "One of the little bodies I picked
up… was about the same age as my daughter… I went through
nightmares… So did a lot of the other guys… You can never put that
vision out of your mind."
James Huberty was born in the early 1940s and raised
in the golden post-war era. As a young boy in Canton, Ohio, he
contracted polio and, according to his father, Earl, suffered from
crooked knees and mild, spastic paralysis that occasionally caused
numbness throughout his body: "His whole nervous system was hurt.
It screwed him up. It made changes in him when he was little. Maybe he
would get quick-tempered." The debilitating disease was not,
however, the only, or indeed the most acute, source of pain for the
young Huberty. When he was 7 years old, his mother, Isel, heeded a
"calling" and became a missionary. By 1950, she and Earl were
divorced. Their boy was deeply affected by the loss of his mother.
According to David Lombardi, Pastor of the Trinity Gospel Temple in
Canton, "His father raised [the family], and Huberty got embittered
by it ... [He] blamed God for taking his mother away from him."
Bertha Eggeman, who lived down the road from the
Huberty farmhouse, recalled, "Jimmy was a loner-not a bad boy but,
someone who spent most of his time by himself ... He just did not want
to mix, he didn't want to talk to people." According to Mrs.
Eggeman, guns were about the only thing that interested him. Alte
Miller, an Amish farmer, agreed: "He was always a shooting guy ...
he'd shoot five heads of cabbage and pick one." After the massacre,
Huberty's wife, Etna, gave her impressions of his formative years in a
letter to KFMB-TV, in San Diego. "He had a very unhappy childhood.
He was very sad. He came from a broken home. He was always very sad and
very lonely. His only close friend was his dog Shep."
Whatever the pain and sadness of his childhood,
Huberty's adult life developed happily enough. In the prosperous postwar
era, when social advancement beckoned for even the least talented,
Huberty, whom David Lombardi described as "halfway
intelligent," made the most of the opportunities. He enrolled at
Malone College, a small humanities school in Ohio, where Etna was also
studying. He graduated and began training to obtain a state licence as
an embalmer and funeral director. A fellow embalmer, Reverend Dennis
Dean, noticed that the young Huberty possessed "a considerable
ballistics knowledge ... He was a gun collector ... he was preoccupied
with weapons and the things which various calibres could do to the human
body." Loquacious on the subject of firearms, Huberty was otherwise
In 1965, he and Etna were married at the Trinity
Gospel Temple. The ceremony was performed by Pastor Lombardi, who knew
both the families well. Etna's parents were active in the church and
Isel Huberty had attended on occasions, too-until she received her
calling to missionary work. Lombardi also knew Etna and James, although
"with him you always felt a little uneasy about the way he
harboured something inside. He was pent up; he was a loner and he had
kind of an explosive personality."
Pent up or not, Huberty's life was progressing well.
In 1971, he and Etna moved into a large, red-brick house in a
middle-class section of Massillon, Ohio, about ten miles west of Canton.
They redecorated the house extensively and furnished it well. Huberty
had received a licence from the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science
in 1965, but had not taken up a career in the funeral business. Instead,
he took a job at the Babcock and Wilcox utility plant in Canton. Don
Williams, the owner of the funeral home. where Huberty served his
apprenticeship, had "told him he was in the wrong business. He was
a good embalmer but just didn't relate to people. That's why he was
better as a welder. He could just pull that mask down and be by
Huberty's job with Babcock and Wilcox was a good,
steady one and backed up by Etna, or "propped up by a strong-willed
lady," in the words of Arlen Vorsteeg (a psychologist who sat in on
some of the post-massacre police interviews), the couple were able to
make the payments on what Etna called their "good home," as
well as on an investment property; a six-unit apartment building
adjacent to the house. Huberty's career ambitions extended only as far
as earning enough to provide a reasonably comfortable life and home in a
nice section of town for himself and his wife-and, in time, their
children-and by 1971, he had just about realized his dreams.
Huberty placed a particularly high value on a good and
happy family life; the concept was extremely precious to him. When Earl
put the final nail in the coffin of the old Huberty family unit by
remarrying in 1972, James, who, according to his father, "didn't
like that too well," set about expanding the new model and by the
early 1970s they had two daughters, Zelia and Cassandra. He severed
nearly all links with his father (Earl said he got to see his
granddaughters just twice in the years ahead), and invested all his love
in the family that he himself had created-a family which, if he was a
good husband and father, would provide him with all the joy that had
been absent in his childhood.
Outside his family, Huberty had no friends to speak
of. He was not one for socializing, did not mix easily, and didn't
appear even to like other people. "Maybe he was a good father, but
he was not able to relate to people," the psychologist, Versteeg,
surmised. Home and family provided him with his whole raison
d'être and he was fiercely protective of the dream he had
constructed within the four walls of that red-brick house.
He was a fanatical devotee of the conservative
cultural principles relating to the sanctity of private land and
property ownership and a devout believer in a man's right to circle his
wagons and defend his patch of soil. He read about survivalist movements
and was fascinated by them. He raised what a Massillon Police Department
spokesman called "attack dogs." He put up a "No
Trespassing" sign outside his property and was ever-vigilant for
transgressions by people or their pets. Heated dog-related disputes
between Huberty and his neighbours were common. Cindy Straight, who
lived across the street, witnessed one confrontation Huberty had with
her father. A stray dog had defecated on Huberty's front lawn and
"He went after this poodle with a big gun and came running across
the street to my dad's alley and was getting ready to shoot it when my
dad stepped out. My dad convinced him not to shoot and then he told my
dad never to set foot on his property or he'd kill him." According
to Etna, her husband was always "a nervous person who could not
take much pressure."
Aside from the continual bickering with the
neighbours, Huberty and his family enjoyed a decade of generally good
and happy years. With reference to their lives in Massillon, Etna wrote
in her letter to KFMB-TV that her husband "felt that he was a
Everything changed, however, in the early 1980s when
hard times came to the region. The Babcock and Wilcox plant was badly
hit and forced to shut down. "My husband was terminated on Nov. 15,
1982," Etna wrote. "His world came crashing in around him. I
immediately tried to sell the properties. The real estate person made a
fraudulent purchasing agreement on the apartment house. My husband was
very angry and disillusioned [sic]. Five and one half months later he
got another job ... [but he] was laid off again." Huberty remained
unemployed through most of 1983 and at one point, according to Etna,
tried to kill himself. "He had this little silver gun in his hand.
He always played with guns. He raised it to his head. I grabbed his arm.
I pried his fingers off the gun. I left the room to hide the gun. When I
came back, he was sitting on the sofa crying."
Much of Huberty's aggression, however, was not
selfdirected but aimed at others. Terry Kelly, a former colleague, told
the Akron Beacon Journal that Huberty once said to him, "Hey, I got
nothing to live for. I got no job or anything ... He said that if this
was the end of his making a living for his family, he was going to take
everyone with him. He was always talking about shooting somebody."
Another former colleague, James Aslanes, recalled that Huberty
"felt the country wasn't treating him right, that everything was
being done against working people." He blamed his predicament on
such far-off forces as the former President, Jimmy Carter, the
Trilateral Commission, high interest rates and the Federal Reserve
Board. His badmouthing of government institutions led some people to
believe he was a communist. Etna disagreed. "If anything, he was a
Nazi," she said. As 1983 went on, Huberty became increasingly
frustrated and bitter. In September, he was involved in a car crash. It
was one of a series of accidents and vehicle-associated altercations (he
was arrested for disorderly conduct at a filling station in 1980).
According to Etna, the injuries he received in his September accident
exacerbated the lingering pains of childhood polio and left him with a
tremor in one hand.
Whereas previously it was those outside the family who
bore the brunt of Huberty's wrath, now Etna and the two girls also found
themselves in the firing line. In turn, Huberty, the devoted family man,
only became more frustrated and bad-tempered. It was a vicious circle.
He knew he had to do something, and fast-take off, uproot, anything but
remain in the hard-times town of Massillon, Ohio, where the cherished
dream of a happy family life was evaporating before his very eyes.
In the autumn of 1983, he and Etna were still trying
to work out deals to unload the properties when, "holding a great
deal of paper and seeing very little money, my husband had the idea to
move to ... California and live reasonably." Neighbours remember
hearing that the Hubertys "wanted to try it out west," then,
all of a sudden, the family was gone, the situation with their
properties in Massillon still not resolved.
James, Etna and the children wound up in the border
towns of southern California, down below San Diego. They moved more
times-from apartment block to apartment block-in less than ten months
than they had in the previous ten years. At the Cottonwood Apartments,
where they took up residence in January 1984, they were the only Anglo
family amid Spanish-speaking tenants. According to Etna, her husband
"did not fit into the Mexican community. He knew no Spanish. He
felt lost, rejected and hopeless ... To his mind, everything in Ohio was
done right and he could not adjust to the way things were done in
California. I asked him if he wanted to go back to Ohio but he said no
that there was nothing there but cold winters and high utility
According to Sandra Martinez, the assistant manager of
the Cottonwood Apartments, Huberty was "a quiet man who seemed like
he was always mad at somebody. He was always frowning." A neighbour
alleged that one night somebody tried to steal Huberty's motorcycle and
that Huberty fired a shot to scare the thief off. Versteeg, the
psychologist, revealed that he had also, on occasions, threatened Etna
and the children with a gun, but that Etna had not taken the threats
seriously: "She saw him not as mentally deranged but as isolated
and lonely." She also saw that he was becoming increasingly
obsessed with war.
Crushed. by the loss of the good family life he had
once known, Huberty found a kind of bitter joy in the idea that the
whole world was going to end anyway - and, he believed, sooner rather
than later: Fascinated by guns and gun magazines, violence and
destruction, warfare and survivalist movements, he found it easy to
picture cataclysmic scenarios; modem equivalents of Wagner von
Degerloch's bloody dramatizations of apocalyptic biblical themes. At the
same time, though, he seems to have been aware that this thinking was
not altogether healthy and that he needed some kind of help. According
to Etna, her husband walked up to a police car in San Ysidro one day,
claiming to be a war criminal. The police interviewed and released him.
In June 1984, Huberty moved his family out of the
Cottonwood Apartments and into another block in San Ysidro. He was no
happier there. According to the New York Times, the apartment block
"struggled to maintain a middle-class air in a down-at-the-heels
neighborhood," and so did Huberty. According to other tenants, he
was a clean-cut dresser, "like ' an executive" and virtually
unapproachable. One of his new neighbours, Tim Keller, would say hello
to him in passing but Huberty never responded. "He came across to
me as cold. He looked like your average guy except for his facial
expression. I never saw a smile on him." Huberty had been hunting
for work all around the south San Diego area. He had applied for a job
as a security guard with the Bernstein Security Service in Chula Vista,
but, said company secretary Marianne Sides, "he didn't get hired
here. In fact, there was a big 'No' about four inches high written on
his application by the people who interviewed him. I understand he had
an attitude problem." He did, finally, find a job with another
security company, guarding a condominium complex, but he was fired just
a few weeks later, on 10 July. By this stage, though, he seems to have
been past caring. He had "found nothing but frustrations and broken
dreams in San Diego," said Etna, and he had already told her a
month or two earlier, referring to his suicide attempt, that she should
have let him kill himself.
Around this time, Huberty received what in the event
was a final letter from his estranged father. It contained a photograph
of a mural that Earl had just finished painting at his local church; a
scene of the River Jordan flowing into the Sea of Galilee. "I was
hoping he would come by and see it one day," Earl told reporters.
"It's too late now."
On Tuesday 17 July, Huberty told his wife that he had
tried to make an appointment at a mental health clinic. He said the
clinic was going to call him back. He stationed himself by the phone but
no call came, and eventually he got fed up of waiting and told Etna he
was going to ride to Imperial Beach on his motorcycle. When he left,
Etna went through the telephone directory, calling clinics, but no one
knew anything about a Mr. Huberty having phoned.
Investigators would also later try to verify Huberty's
claim, but with no success.
The following morning, the morning of Wednesday 18
July, the Hubertys drove up to San Diego, to the traffic court in
Clairemont Mesa, where James was "favourably treated,"
according to Police Chief William Kolender, while disputing a ticket.
Afterwards, they went to a nearby McDonald's for lunch and then on to
the San Diego Zoo. It appears to have been at this point, while
wandering among the caged animals, that Huberty finally decided his
fantasies of revenge and destruction would become a reality.
"Society had their chance," he told Etna and they drove home
to San Ysidro.
Some reports suggested that Huberty and his wife
argued on the day of the massacre but these were discounted by police.
In the afternoon, the couple were sitting in the bedroom of their
apartment when Huberty got up and pulled on camouflage pants and a black
T-shirt. He said he was going out. "Where are you going,
honey?" Etna asked him. "Going hunting humans," he
replied. He finished dressing and, as Etna wrote to KFMB-TV, "When
he left the house about 3:45, he said, 'I will not be going far.' I
said, 'Do you not want to stay here with us?' He said, ',No.' I called
to him and told him that I had talked to Mr. Smith, the man who bought
the house in Massilon Ohio, and he advised me that he would refinance
the house and pay us off in October and we could buy a business. Then he
Etna had offered her husband a final straw to clutch
at, but it was of no interest. Huberty either no longer believed in. or
was no longer prepared to wait for, some possible rosy future. His life,
so far as he could see it, had come to the end of the line.
When robbed, in Massillon, of his role as provider
for, and protector of, his family-a role that was everything to him-he
had uprooted and headed west in pursuit of his rapidly vanishing dream.
In San Ysidro, he was just about as far west as a man could get and,
riding his motorcycle over to the Pacific Ocean at Imperial Beach, as he
took to doing, it can have been only too clear to him-looking out off
the edge of the world-that he could pursue the dream no further.
With revenge in his heart, Huberty climbed into his
battered old Mercury Marquis-its bumper sticker reading "I'm not
deaf. I'm just ignoring you'!--and headed for McDonald's, a block away
on San Ysidro Boulevard. The restaurant possessed particular qualities
as a fitting location to Huberty for a grand, final gesture. First, it
faced the teeming Mexican border town of Tijuana and the rightwing
Huberty had a big downer on Hispanics. They had the jobs he felt he
should have had and they confidently patronized what he considered to be
a white middle-class restaurant. Secondly, the outlet was, after the
often long wait to pass through US customs, a welcome first stop for
returning American day-trippers, before speeding on their way north to
the eight-lane freeways and the good life (which Huberty had failed to
find) in southern California. Thirdly, McDonald's was one of the biggest
corporate pedlars of idealized family life-an intoxicating never-never
land of perpetual fun, laughter and happiness for mums, dads and kids, a
dream world created with an annual $400 million advertising budget, a
world that stood in polar opposition to Huberty's world and that
cruelly, if unwittingly, mocked his family dreams.
"The fact is that a McDonald's restaurant was the
site of the killings," said Charles Rubner, a spokesman for the
company, in the wake of the massacre. His comment was intended to
address the question of adverse publicity for the McDonald's
Corporation, but he inadvertently highlighted a key clue to
understanding the killer's twisted logic. In precisely the same way that
Charles Whitman, whose dreams revolved around a college education,
nominated the University of Texas as the location for a last pitched
battle, so James Huberty, the disenfranchised family man, nominated a
Unfortunately, Rubner's perceptive comment was soon
lost in the tide of impotence that was the public response to the
massacre. "This could happen anywhere," said Carlos Lopez, the
grandfather of one wounded victim.
Upon entering the McDonalds restaurant,
Huberty discharged a round into the ceiling. Neva Caine, the restaurant
manager, was out of her booth and striding angrily to confront the man.
She reached the counter area and turned toward Huberty as he raised the
Huberty had the gun on her at point-blank range. He
shot once. Neva Caine, the newlywed manager, dropped with a bullet hole
beside her left eye. She died within minutes.
Maria Rivera, 23, had just found a table near the door
when she heard the first shotgun blast. Clutching her two children in
her arms, Maria saw Victor, 25, turn to face the gunman and beg him not
to shoot anymore. But Huberty turned his Uzi on him, and Victor fell
with a scream of pain. He kept crying out. Huberty stood over him,
shouted, "Shut up!" and fired again and again. Maria knew that
her husband was dead; the coroner would later find 14 wounds in his boy.
She collapsed on the floor, the children still in her arms.
Arisdelsi Vargas Vuelas
Guadalupe del Ria had came across the border from
Tijuana for a late lunch with two friends, Arisdelsi Vargas Vuelas and
Gloria Ramirez Soto. They were about to leave McDonald's when Huberty
strode in. At the first blast Vargas and Ramirez pushed del Rio down.
The women slid under the table - del Rio and Ramirez with their heads
pressed against the wall and their legs drawn up to their chests, Vargas
as close as she could get behind them.
Huberty found them and lashed them with fire. Ramirez
was unhurt. Del Rio was hit several times but not seriously wounded. But
a single 9-mm. slug tore out the back of Vargas's head and destroyed her
brain. She would die the next day, the only person of those Huberty
killed who lived long enough to reach hospital.
Jackie Wright Reyes, Elena Colmenero, Claudia Perez
& Carlos Reyes
Shopper Jackie Wright Reyes (pictured left), her baby,
Carlos, in her arms, was at the counter with the rest of her group.
They'd just gotten their order when Huberty fired into the ceiling.
Aurora Pena, Reyes's niece, later remembered that they all dropped to
the floor; Reyes tucked Carlos against her and shielded him and Aurora
with her body. Huberty looked down at them and started firing. He killed
Jackie's friend Elena Colmenero with a shotgun blast to the chest; he
fatally shot nine-year-old Claudia Perez in the cheek, chest, belly,
thigh, hip, armpit, and head. Imelda Perez was lucky; she was only hit
in the hand. Aurora Pena wound survive a bullet wound in her left leg.
Both girls remained conscious. Aurora, lying up
against Jackie Reyes, could feel her aunt's body jerking and bucking
when Huberty turned his weapons on her. He shot the young women in the
head, neck, shoulders, breast, back, buttocks, left arm, and both legs -
48 wounds by the coroner's count. Beside his dead mother's body, baby
Carlos sat up and started wailing at the top of his lungs. Huberty
shouted at the shrieking child in red jumpsuit - then took careful aim
and killed the infant with a 9-mm. slug through the center of the back.
Mato Herrera & Blythe Herrera
The homeward-bound Herreras, with their son, Matao,
and friend Keith Thomas, were eating in a booth when Huberty entered.
Blythe Herrera and Matao went under one booth, Ron Herrera and Keith
under another. Ron lay there, the boy between him and the wall, and
after a while saw that Keith had been wounded. Then a bullet struck him
in the left arm. He made no outcry. A few minutes later he was hit in
the stomach, a bit later in the hip, later in the shoulder, last - a
ricochet, he thought - in the back of his head. He never lost
consciousness. He and Keith survived; Blythe and Matao were dead, both
with numerous wounds to the head.
Omar Hernandez & David Flores
Three 11-year-olds coming for afternoon ice cream and
sodas rode their bikes into the west parking lot. Joshua Coleman later
remembered the someone yelled something unintelligible from across the
street, Puzzled, the boys hesitated, looking around, Before they could
register anything, Joshua recalled, they heard the roar of a shotgun
from inside McDonald's and were thrown violently down in a tangle of
bodies and bikes. Joshua knew immediately that he was hurt badly. He
looked at his friends, Omar Hernandez and David Flores. They were
covered with blood. Joshua saw it pooling on the ground. He saw them
retching and thought they were dying. He himself was bloody and in great
pain, but he lay still and quiet, hoping that whoever had shot him would
think ha was dead. Eventually, the police got to him. He survived with
wounds in his stomach, buttocks, hands, and arms. Both Omar and David
died of massive injures to the head and body before police could reach
Miguel Victoria & Alicia Victoria
Now the Victoria's were arriving, the oldest victims
that bloody day - Miguel and Alicia, come for those hamburgers to take
home to Tijuana. They parked and walked to the west door. Huberty met
them with shotgun blasts. The buckshot caught Alicia in the face and
threw her down. It ripped into the old man as well, and he, looking in
horror at his wife, screamed, "God dammit, you killed her!"
Then he tottered and fell. He pulled himself to a sitting position and
wiped the blood from his wife's face, wiping and cleaning and cursing
the maniac who'd murdered her.
The old man kept wiping his wife's ruined face while
his own blood ran down his chin as he shouted curses at the gunman
inside. Huberty walked to the door. He yelled angrily at the old man -
then shot him from only inches away. Miguel crumpled beside his dead
Stalking around the restaurant, Huberty was not in the
least cowed by the cops closing in on him. A man was moaning, so Huberty
finished him off. By now Gus Verslius, the friendly truck driver
stopping for coffee on his retirement day, was dead, his chest riddled
with half a dozen gunshot wounds.
Hugo Velasquez, the rising international banker, was
dead too. A single bullet in the chest had brought him to his improbable
end in a little fast-food restaurant in an American border town.
Maggie Padilla, Paulina Aguino & Elsa Borboa
On some Impulse, Huberty vaulted the counter to check
the kitchen and found Guillermo Flores on the floor talking to police.
With Flores were Alex Vasquez and Albert Leos, the grill men, and the
three crying young women who worked the counter. Vasquez remembered that
Huberty looked quite surprised. "Oh," he observed calmly,
"there's more." And then, in a flash of rage, "You're
trying to hide from me, you bastards!"
He raised the Uzi. One of the women screamed in
Spanish: "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!" Huberty open fire.
The three men leaped up to flee, Flores was ahead, Vasquez behind and
pushing him. Flores jumped down a set of steps that led to an emergency
exit and a moment later was outside. Vasquez scooted down another
stairway to an exit and escaped. Albert Leos tried to run, but one of
the women grabbed him and pulled him down and he was caught in the fire.
Wounded but still alive, he crawled to the shelter of a table, but
Maggie Padilla, Paulina Aguino, and Elsa Borboa were dead. Huberty had
taken pains to shoot all three of them in the head, among other places.
massacre, sometimes called the McMurder, was an incident of
mass murder at a McDonald's restaurant in the San Ysidro section of San
Diego, California, on July 18, 1984.
The massacre was
carried out by James Oliver Huberty, a 41 year old former welder
from Canton, Ohio. In January 1984, Huberty had moved to San Ysidro with
his wife and children, where he worked as a security guard until his
dismissal one week prior to the murders. His apartment was located near
the site of the shooting spree.
Before leaving for
McDonald's his wife Etna asked him where he was going, Huberty
responded, "going to hunt humans". Earlier that same day he and his
family visited another McDonald's restaurant for lunch, before going to
the zoo. While walking around with his wife and two daughters he made
the comment to his wife, "society had its chance".
Huberty used a
nine-millimeter Uzi semi-automatic (the primary weapon fired in the
massacre), a Winchester pump-action twelve-gauge shotgun, and a
nine-millimeter Browning semi-automatic pistol in the restaurant,
killing 21 people and wounding 19 others. Huberty's victims were
predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American and ranged in age from eight
months to 74 years.
The massacre began at 4 p.m. and lasted for 77
minutes. Huberty had spent 257 rounds of ammunition before he was
fatally shot by Chuck Foster, a SWAT team sniper perched on the roof
next door. The 70 minute shooting spree is reconstructed in The Sett
(1996), a book by Ranulph Fiennes, which deals with the subject of
stated during the massacre that he had killed thousands in Vietnam, he
had never really served in any military branch in his life. There was
speculation that schizophrenia led him to believe that he had actually
served in the war itself.
On 26 September 1984,
McDonald's tore down the restaurant where the massacre occurred and gave
the property to the city, which opened San Ysidro Southwestern Community
College there. In front of the school is a memorial to the massacre
victims, consisting of 21 hexagonal granite pillars ranging in height
from one to six feet.
In 1986 Etna Huberty,
his widow, unsuccessfully sued McDonald's and Babcock and Wilcox, James
Huberty's longtime former employer, in an Ohio state court for $7.88
million, claiming that the massacre was triggered by the combined
mixture of McDonald's food and work around poisonous metals.
that monosodium glutamate in the food, combined with the high levels of
lead and cadmium in Huberty's body, induced delusions and uncontrollable
rage. An autopsy did reveal high levels of the metals, most likely built
up from fumes inhaled during 14 years of welding. Autopsy results also
revealed there were no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the
On the day before the
massacre, Huberty had called a mental health center. The receptionist
misspelled his name on intake. Since he had not claimed there was an
immediate emergency, his call was not returned.