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James Oliver HUBERTY






"The McDonald's massacre"
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Revenge
Number of victims: 21
Date of murders: July 18, 1984
Date of birth: October 11, 1942
Victims profile: Neva Denise Caine, 22 (McDonald's manager) / Elsa Herlinda Borboa-Firro, 19 (McDonald's employee) / Paulina Aquino López, 21 (McDonald's employee) / Margarita Padilla, 18 (McDonald's employee) / 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 / 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, 62 / Aida Velazquez Victoria, 69 / Miguel Victoria-Ulloa, 74
Method of murder: Shooting (9 mm Uzi semi-automatic, a Winchester pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, and a 9 mm Browning HP)
Location: San Ysidro, California, USA
Status: Fatally shot by a SWAT team sniper, Chuck Foster, the same day
photo gallery

The San Ysidro McDonald's massacre was a mass murder that occurred on July 18, 1984, in a McDonald's restaurant in the San Ysidro section of San Diego, California, United States. The shooting spree resulted in 22 deaths (including the perpetrator James Oliver Huberty) and the injuries of 19 others.

James Oliver Huberty

James Oliver Huberty was born in 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 His mother's abandonment would leave a profound effect on the young James, who became sullen and withdrawn.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 in sociology. He would later receive a license for embalming at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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.

Prior to the shooting

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 the massacre.

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.

The massacre

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 employee)

  • Neva Denise Caine, 22 (McDonald's manager)

  • 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 employee)

  • Margarita Padilla, 18 (McDonald's employee)

  • 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, 62

  • 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 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. 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

A chronology of events during the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre that took 21 lives on July 18, 1984

4 p.m. to 4:09

4:00 P.M.

Police communications receives first telephone call of shooting at McDonald's.


First police -- four patrol units and a supervisor -- are dispatched.


First description of suspect is received and broadcast.


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 helicopters.

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 investigations officers.

4:20 to 4:45


Second description of suspect is broadcast, his shooting continues.


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 members.


Two witnesses escape through back door of restaurant and are debriefed.


Final, more accurate description of Huberty is broadcast.


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 roof.


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 the order.


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.

5:17 p.m.

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 the grass.


Berserk guard massacres 20

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 to survive

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 long simmering

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 public".


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 followed suit.


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 edge

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 against him.

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 Fortune" killer.

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 atrocity

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.


21 remembered

McDonald's may be enshrined

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 victims.

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 Innocent."


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 Joan Kroc:


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 said yesterday.

"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.


Critical after 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 yesterday.

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 scene here."

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 released.

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 them."

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 reservation.

"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 Cassandra, 9.

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 court costs.

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 residence.

"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 his pillow.

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 chicken McNuggets.

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 their milkshakes.

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 police.

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 cattle.

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 very reserved.

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 himself."

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 worthwhile individual."

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 bills."

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 left."

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 McDonald's.

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.



Neva Caine

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 Uzi.

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.

Victor Rivera

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 them.

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 wife.

Gus Verslius

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

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.



The McDonald's 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 revenge killing.

Although Huberty 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.

The Property

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.

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.

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.



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