San Diego school shooting in 1979: Shooter, a teenage girl, explained by saying she didn’t like Mondays

San Diego school shooting in 1979 Why Shooter, a teenage girl, said she didn’t like Mondays

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After shooting several people at a school in San Diego on January 29, 1979 — killing two adults and wounding nine others — Brenda Ann Spencer famously told a reporter her motive: “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” She then added, “I have to go now. I shot a pig (police officer) I think and I want to shoot more. I’m having too much fun (to surrender).”

That explanation was memorialized in the Boomtown Rats song, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” written by Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof shortly after the attack. The song hit number 1 on the British charts in the summer of 1979, was one of the top 100 singles in the US around the same time, went on to win several UK music awards, and was even covered by singer Tori Amos in 2001. (See the video at the bottom of the page.)

Although she was 16 at the time of the murders, Brenda was tried as an adult, convicted, and given a 25-to-life prison sentence. As of 2019, she’s still incarcerated in Chino, California.

See some of the early news reports about the shooting below.

Girl opens fire on school; 2 die

By Richard Brooks, Sun Staff Writer – With material from Sun news services
San Bernardino County Sun (San Diego) January 30, 1979

SAN DIEGO — A 16-year-old girl fatally shot two persons and wounded nine others here Monday, later telling police she fired the .22 caliber rifle into a crowded elementary schoolyard because she “just wanted to liven up the day,” police said.

Killed were Cleveland Grammar School’s principal and a custodian. Among the injured were a police officer and eight schoolchildren, two of whom were wounded critically.

Los Angeles Times headline - Jan 29 1979 - Brenda Ann Spencer school shooting on front page

The suspect, Brenda Spencer, barricaded herself in her home across the street from the school and held police at bay for 6-1/2 hours before surrendering. A policeman on the scene, Sgt. Dave Kelly, said Spencer emerged from her family’s modest home, put two guns on the ground, then calmly went back into the house and brought other ammunition before heavily armed officers grabbed the girl.

Spencer, a junior at Patrick Henry High School, was described as a “pretty good shot” by officers on the scene. They quoted her father as saying she had 500 to 600 rounds of ammunition.

“I just wanted to,” the girl had told the San Diego Evening Tribune in a telephone interview when asked her reasons. “It just popped into my head, about last Wednesday, I think.”

Brenda Ann Spencer

All the shots were fired within 15 minutes starting at 8:40 a.m., just as students and teachers were entering the school for the start of the day’s classes, officers said.

When the shooting began, students ran in panic from the schoolyard and teachers told those inside to huddle beneath desks and keep away from the windows. Later, students were ushered to safety in the school auditorium. Nearby homes were evacuated in the city’s La Mesa section, a middle-class area of quiet, tree-lined streets and frame houses northeast of the city. All those hit by gunfire were outside the school.

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The incident began when Spencer allegedly aimed the .22 caliber rifle out the window of her home and opened fire on the grammar school across the street. During the first burst of gunfire, school principal Burton A. Wragg, 53, and school custodian Michael Suchar, 56, were fatally shot, said San Diego Superintendent of Schools Tom Goodwin. Wragg, the first person shot, was hit after he heard the gunfire and raced out into the schoolyard, trying to save the students.

San Diego school shooting in 1979 - Victims

“The principal came out and told the kids to hit the dirt. And the custodian was either helping him or came out after he heard the gunfire,” said San Diego police officer Lee Nashold. Wragg died in surgery and Suchar was dead on arrival at local hospital.

Among the nine persons wounded was Officer Robert Robb, 30, who was shot in the neck as he tried to carry a wounded student to safety. Robb was listed in stable condition at a local hospital. The officer had “commandeered a trash truck and was taking people out (to safety) when he got shot,” Nashold later told a reporter.

San Diego school shooting in 1979 (3)

During negotiations between police and the girl, police spokesman Bill Robinson had described her as being “under a lot of pressure.” He added that he didn’t know if the girl had any prior problems with authorities.

“I don’t like Mondays,” the girl reportedly told the Tribune. “This livens up the day.” Asked if she had any particular targets, she said, “No one in particular. Before hanging up, however, she said, “I have to go now. I shot a pig, I think, and I want to shoot some more.”

In the frantic moments follo-ing the two killings, eight students were wounded, police reported. Most of the school’s 300 pupils were herded into an auditorium where they remained for several hours until they were evacuated. About 3-1/2 hours after the shooting began, five buses were quietly brought to the back of the school and the students were evacuated to a junior high school one-half mile away, where their parents picked them up.

San Diego 1979 school sniper scenes

The Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon)30 Jan 1979, TuePage 2 i

Police officer with Brenda Spencer 1970 San Diego school shooting

1979 school shooter Brenda SpencerA heavily-armed police SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team set up a barricade around the house, keeping parents, bystanders and reporters at least one block away. Two police helicopters circled overhead and Police Chief William Kolender and City Manager Ray Blair were at the scene.

A specially trained police negotiator periodically talked to the girl in an effort that ultimately led to her surrender. However, his was not the only call she received. She told reporters who called that Mondays made her “blue” and that she started the shooting just for the fun of it.

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For most of the afternoon, police played a waiting game. About 2 p.m. an officer said the girl was “taking narcotics and drinking. “Evidently, she’s pretty garbled over the telephone . . . and they’re going to let her do herself in (with the intoxicants) until she passes out.” After her surrender, however, police officials declined to comment on that account. Officers said she would be questioned by the department’s homicide detectives.

The girl was alone in the house but her father, identified as W.D. Spencer, a San Diego State University employee, was at the scene and helped in trying to talk her into giving up. The girl’s mother, who was said to be divorced from Spencer, was also at the scene briefly but later left, police said.

Napa Valley Register headline - Jan 29 1979 - Brenda Ann Spencer school shooting front page

Sniper known as tomboy

San Bernardino County Sun (San Diego) January 30, 1979

Brenda Spencer’s classmates describe her as a tomboy and a gun nut who had difficulty adjusting to life. They say she was skinny, shy, frumpy and came from a broken home. had few friends and didn’t get along with her teachers.

She seemed most comfortable — and most excited — when she was around guns or talking about them, her friends said Monday after the 16-year-old Miss Spencer allegedly opened fire with a rifle at a crowded school parking lot, killing two persons and wounding 10 others.

San Diego school shooting in 1979 (2)

Along with her father, Miss Spencer was an avid hunter. For Christmas, she got a 22-caliber rifle, said Brian Higgins, 16, who was her classmate last semester at Patrick Henry High School. “She said she and her father had enough ammunition the house for a small army,”

Higgins said. Other friends said the freckle-faced red-head was a fan of SWAT-style television shows. “When she saw stuff like that, she’d say, ‘Oh, wow,'” one friend recalled.

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On Monday, SWAT officer Mike Hendrickson said police were told Miss Spencer had in the past “fantasized in the past about being a sniper.” A San Diego police spokesman confirmed that Miss Spencer had a juvenile arrest record and was involved in an incident last year in which several windows were broken at Cleveland Elementary School — the same place where Monday’s shooting occurred.

When officers entered the house after Miss Spencer surrendered. Hendrickson said, they found it in disarray. “It looked like they had had a pretty good party,” he said. “There were a lot of beer and whisky bottles laying around.”

Brenda Ann Spencer taken into custody 1979

Handcuffs on for Brenda Spencer shooter from 1979

San Diego school shooting in 1979: Teenager is charged in San Diego deaths

Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.) February 1, 1979

San Diego — A freckle-faced teenage girl has been charged with 12 criminal counts including murder in connection with a sniper attack in the parking lot of Cleveland Elementary School that killed the principal and head custodian and wounded eight pupils.

A petition filed Wednesday in Juvenile Court by the district attorney’s office accuses 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer of the shootings that also left a police officer wounded.

In the petition, Deputy District Attorney Charles L Patrick requested that Miss Spencer, who police say has a history of petty theft and drug abuse, be tried as an adult.

The petition also alleges “special circumstances,” which means that if she is tried as an adult and convicted of murder, she could be sentenced to life in state prison without parole.

San Diego school shooting in 1979 (4)

San Diego school shooting in 1979 (1)

If the case is handled in Juvenile Court, the girl could be free within seven years.In addition to murder, the red-haired Patrick Henry High School junior was charged with nine counts of assault with intent to kill and one of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.

Juvenile Court Judge William L Todd, Jr said he will probably set a date next week for a hearing on whether Miss Spencer will be tried as an adult.

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Miss Spencer told reporters by telephone during the attack that she was doing it to “liven up” a boring Monday. Police SWAT team members arrested her following a 6-1/2 hour siege at the home she shared with her divorced father. Investigators said the .22-caliber rifle the girl lay down as she was arrested was a Christmas present from her father, Wallace Spencer, a supervisor of technical services at San Diego State University.

Police officer with Brenda Spencer 1970 San Diego school shooting

Killed in the 20-minute hail of bullets were Principal Burton A Wragg, 53, and Michael Suchar, 56, chief custodian at the school, which is across the street from the Spencer’s home.

Wragg was hit when he went to the aid of a wounded 9-year-old girl, Suchar as he tried to help the fallen principal and Officer Robert Robb was shot through the neck while dragging wounded children to safety.

Robb was released from the hospital Wednesday with Charles “Cam” Miller, 9, who suffered a shoulder wound.

Christy Buell and Monica Selvig, both 9, were in satisfactory condition after transfer from intensive care and Mary Clark, 8, was in satisfactory condition with a wound in the abdomen. The other wounded youngsters were treated and released.

Cleveland Elementary School student on a bus after 1979 shooting

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Interesting story. Possibly the first school shooting that predates columbine. In one of the photos there was a male suspect in cuffs. What was his role in the situation?

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