On 29th January 1979, Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16-year-old girl, shot the principal and custodian of Grover Cleveland Elementary School, San Diego. She used a .22-caliber rifle from her house across the street to shoot them and injure nine others.
The victims were custodian Mike Suchar and Principal Burton Wragg. Additionally, eight pupils and a police officer were injured. Brenda Ann Spencer, the high-school rampager, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and assaults using a deadly weapon.
She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Her reason for her actions – "I just don't like Mondays." And upon being asked, she also expressed her pleasure in seeing the children shot.
Who Is Brenda Ann Spencer?
Brenda Ann Spencer lived in the San Carlos neighborhood of San Diego, California, across the street from Clover Cleveland Elementary School. 16-year-old Spencer was 5'2" in height, unusually lean, and had bright red hair.
Some believed Spencer had a negative attitude towards the police and said she talked about shooting one. Teachers described her as an introvert that they even had to check on her if she was awake sometimes. But she had a talent for photography and won prizes in a Humane Society Competition.
Brenda Ann Spencer had self-identified to be gay since birth. Since her parents' separation, she lived with her father, Wallace Spencer, in virtual poverty. Brenda and her dad shared the same mattress on the floor of the living room. She also admitted that her father drunkenly subjected her to sexual abuse and physically hurt her.
Later, it was found that Spencer had a brain injury that affected the temporal lobe of her brain. This was the result of an accident on her bicycle earlier.
Brenda Ann Spencer Shot At The School From The Window Of Her House
On the morning of 29th January 1979, the school bell rang in Grover Cleveland Elementary School. It was then when it became the target of the state's first-degree murder and school killing. Brenda Ann Spencer aimed her .22-caliber rifle and magnified its sight from the window of her house, standing across the street from the school.
She shot and murdered the principal of the school, Burton A. Wragg, and school custodian Michal J. "Mike" Suchar. A police officer and eight students were also wounded.
Principal Wragg was in his office sipping coffee with Dylan Barnes, a teacher in the school, when they heard the sound of firecrackers outside. They rushed out to investigate the cause. While Dylan took the school entrance, Wragg was rescuing a child outside.
Suddenly, he turned around and fell to the ground with a red stain spread across his chest. Barnes took a few children into the office, asking the secretary to call the police. Barnes then went back outside to gather the rest of the children when he realized that he was in the direct vision of the shooter.
As Barnes tried calming down the panicking children, he saw the school custodian approaching Principal Wragg with a blanket. Before Wragg could warn him, Suchar was shot, and he fell to the ground.
Why Did She Do It?
Reporters rang the neighbors one by one and finally called Brenda's house. She received the call and excitedly admitted that she was the one who shot the school.
When reporters asked Brenda Ann Spencer the reason behind her actions, she replied matter-of-factly. She said that she did it for fun. "I don't like Mondays," was her infamous statement.
Mondays mark the beginning of a long week. She said she shot a policeman and wanted to shoot more:
"This livens up the day."
"I have to go now. I shot a pig (cop) I think and I want to shoot more."
"I'm having too much fun [to surrender]... it was just like shooting ducks in a pond."
The school children were injured, and she described them as "a herd of cows." But by the time all of this was done and dusted, Spencer was arrested.
Wragg and Suchar were dead, and eight kids and a police officer were wounded. The gravity of her crime was high enough not to treat her like a minor. Hence, she was tried as an adult.
Did Brenda Ann Spencer Always Hate People?
Since the shooting, acquaintances reported that Brenda Ann Spencer expressed negativities towards the police and had talked about shooting one. Additionally, her teachers remember her as an introvert.
It was found that Spencer had mentioned the attack even months before the actual shooting. She always wished to commit something big enough to appear on TV, making her famous. She once told her friends that someday they'd go looking for her. She felt that no one understood her. However, it wasn't very long before she revealed her plans.
But her friends didn't take her declarations quite seriously.
Brenda Ann Spencer Struggle With Mental Health
Brenda lived with her father, Wallace Spencer, after her parents separated. They slept on a single mattress on the living room floor, and the police had found half-empty alcohol bottles spread throughout the house.
Besides her allegation of her father sexually abusing her drunkenly, records say that in early 1978, Spencer was transferred to an institute for problematic students. She was found malingering at the institute, and they informed her parents that she was suicidal.
In December, the psychiatric assessment asked that Spencer be admitted to a mental hospital as she was depressed. But her father denied the same.
A plaque and flagpole were raised at Cleveland Elementary in memory of the shot victims. The school remained closed in 1983 along with some other schools because of declining enrolment. Much later, after decades, it was leased to other private and charter schools.
The shooting inspired The Boomtown Rats single I Don't Like Mondays, released only six months after the tragedy.
From 2005-2017, it was established as the Magnolia Science Academy, a public charter middle school for sixth to eighth-grade students. In 2018, authorities demolished the school and shifted the plaque to a nearby street corner.
It was indeed a frightening and tragic incident that history reminds us of.