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Brenda Ann Spencer (born April 3, 1962) is a convicted American murderer who carried out a shooting spree from her home in San Diego, on January 29, 1979.

“I Don’t Like Mondays”

Brenda Ann Spencer won worldwide notoriety when, as a freckled 16-year-old proclaiming, “I don’t like Mondays,” Spencer sprayed a San Diego elementary school playground with .22-caliber semiautomatic sniper fire.

Monday mornings are tough for everyone, but on Jan. 29, 1979, a freckle-faced red-headed teen found a unique way to sing the beginning-of-the-week blues.

The first note of her displeasure — a rifle crack — came at around 8:30 a.m., just as a bell rang to signal the start of classes at Grover Cleveland Elementary in San Carlos, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. Children waiting in front of the school started to fall to the ground, bleeding. The sounds of gunfire continued.

It took a few shots before the pupils, parents, and teachers realized what was happening. A sniper, somewhere in the row of houses across the street from the school, was using the children for target practice. With children screaming and bullets flying, Cleveland elementary’s principal, Burton Wragg, ran outside to help the victims and move the other children, who were paralyzed with fear, out of harm’s way. There was another pop and Wragg fell, shot in the chest. Mike Suchar,  the school custodian, rushed out to help and was also shot. Teachers and students barricaded themselves in the school, while nurses treated the wounded. Four victims, however, were still outside. San Diego police officer Robert Robb, first to arrive at the scene, got a bullet in his neck.

The shooting continued until another officer, aided by a security guard from a neighbouring high school, commandeered a garbage truck and drove it in front of Cleveland Elementary, blocking the sniper’s sightlines.

Brenda Ann Spencer, 16, lays down a .22-caliber rifle as San Diego Police SWAT team officers aim sawed-off shotguns and high-powered rifles at her, ending a 6-hour siege at her suburban San Carlos home, Jan. 29, 1979. (JIM OKERBLOM/AP)

Spencer’s onslaught, as she crouched in her parents’ home across the street, left the school’s principal and janitor dead and eight children and a police officer wounded. Amid the shooting spree, Spencer unwittingly was reached on the telephone by two reporters from the San Diego Evening Tribune who, while attempting to call neighbours, hadn’t realized that they had reached her house.

On a hunch, a reporter from a local paper dialled the phone number at the address police had pinpointed as the sniper’s nest. A young girl answered. The reporter asked if she knew where the shots were coming from. She rattled off the address of her house. When the reporter pointed out that it was her own address, she said, “Yeah, who do you think’s doing the shooting?”

The next question, the obvious one, was why?

She told them that she had opened fire because, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day,” She also said, “I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun”; “It was just like shooting ducks in a pond”‘ and “the children looked like a herd of cows standing around; it was really easy pickings.” She finished the interview by announcing, “I have to go now. I shot a pig [a police officer], I think, and I want to shoot some more.” Armed with 200 rounds of ammunition and a rifle that she had received the previous month from her father as a Christmas gift, Spencer opened fire about 8:30 a.m. just as students were arriving for class.

The sound was mistaken for firecrackers or caps until bodies fell to the ground. Principal Burton Wragg, 53, was shot and killed as he ran toward one of the wounded children, and custodian Michael Suchar, 56, was struck and killed as he ran to Wragg’s side to help him. At the time of the shootings, Brenda Ann Spencer was 16 years old. Her comments inspired the Boomtown Rats, an Irish rock group, to write the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

“I Don’t Like Mondays” is a song by Irish band The Boomtown Rats that was a number one single in the UK Singles Chart for four weeks during the summer of 1979, and ranks as the sixth biggest British hit of 1979. Written by Bob Geldof, it was the band’s second number one single. The full-length version appeared on the group’s third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing. It includes a reprise of the first verse, which was edited for the single release.

According to Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, WRAS, on the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer.

Spencer showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”. The song was first performed less than a month later.

Geldof explained how he wrote the song: I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with [Johnnie] Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’. I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn’t an attempt to exploit the tragedy.

When Grover Cleveland Elementary became the target in the country’s first high-profile school shooting, ground zero in an undeclared war in which children shoot children. The morning school bell had just rung in the quiet San Diego suburb, and children were trickling into their classrooms when a 16- year-old girl named Brenda Spencer took aim through the telescopic sight of her .22-caliber rifle from her house across the street.

Principal Burton Wragg was in the front office having a last cup of coffee with sixth-grade teacher Daryl Barnes when they heard what sounded like firecrackers going off outside. “Pop, pop, pop” is how Barnes remembers it. Wragg charged out the front door while Barnes headed for a side door to investigate. As Barnes looked toward the front of the school, he saw Wragg stooping over a crying child on the ground. Suddenly, the principal spun around and fell backwards into some bushes, a red stain spreading across his chest. Barnes grabbed a couple of children and herded them into the office, shouting at the secretary to call the police. He rushed back outside to pick up another fallen child and heard three more shots ring out, realizing as he scrambled back to safety that he was now in the sniper’s sights. As Barnes tried to calm the panicky children, he spotted custodian Mike Suchar with a blanket in his hand, running toward Wragg.

“Before I could scream a warning, he spun. I heard him say, `My God, I’ve been hit,’ before he fell. Then a whole carload of children came up, and I was screaming, Get the car out of here, get out!” The car screeched away.

The girl with the soft voice, solid aim, and reluctance to return to school after the weekend was not-so-sweet old Brenda Ann Spencer. She was the youngest child of Wallace Spencer, an audio-visual specialist at a nearby college, and his wife, Dot. Until her parents divorced in 1972 she seemed a normal happy child, a bit of a tomboy. She was active in several sports, an animal lover, and a talented photographer. That bright little girl vanished after the family split up, and a judge awarded custody of all three children to their emotionally distant father. The tiny redhead, described by one acquaintance as “no bigger than a bar of soap,” became sullen, withdrawn and strange. She started hanging around with another troubled youth and became obsessed with gore rocker Alice Cooper.

Her attack on the school took only about15 minutes. Later, after a six-hour standoff, Brenda walked out of the house, put her weapon on the lawn and quietly surrendered to police. Prosecutors considered trying her as an adult because of the seriousness of her crimes, as her defence attorneys probed the possibility of an insanity plea. The case never came before a jury. Brenda pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Her sentence was 25 to life, with a possibility of parole after 25 years.

Mass killings by demented people are not extremely rare these days. With a little thought, most of us can remember four or five instances in recent years, and each of them is of course horrible. Each shows in its own way the end of the lonely road taken by those for whom human lives are less important than their own…

Spencer had the reputation of “talking big,” making claims that were either exaggeration of the truth or complete fabrications. Her sister, Teresa, commented:

She often bragged about what she would do to someone . . . but she never carried forth with her threats . . . She would also brag about taking heavy drugs, but when she described their effects and what they looked like, I knew she was not telling the truth.

Similarly, Spencer, who by all accounts loved animals and would never engage in cruelty to them, reportedly told a peer that she had set a cat’s tail on fire. The girl didn’t believe her, and there is no evidence that she ever did so. Another peer commented that Spencer apparently enjoyed “saying things that just were not true in order to get attention.” During her attack, she told a reporter, “I’ve gotten into some fights, but they usually don’t last long. I usually open their skulls with a cleaver.” Later that day, she told a police officer, “I had a fight with a friend over a dope deal. He had ripped me off. I had to split his head wide open.” There is no evidence to support such assertions. None of her family members, friends, peers, or neighbours reported any such incidents, and though Spencer had prior run-ins with the police, they were not for fighting (one was for shoplifting and one for burglary/breaking and entering).

During her hearing in 2001, Spencer was asked, “Did you ever talk to your friends . . . about committing crimes?” She responded, “No.” There is abundant evidence that contradicts this.

Here are a few comments from her peers:

  • “She wanted to ‘blow a police officer’s head off.’”
  • She “told a fellow student that she ‘would blow his brains out with a gun.’”
  • “She stated on occasion that she would be famous. She would joke about being a sniper. This was in the ninth grade. We would laugh about blasting people away. She hated all authority, particularly the police.”
  • She “told another friend that she would make a good sniper and that if she had to hole up in her residence for a long period of time she had enough ammunition to do so.”

Her most significant discussions of crime, however, were with her friend Roderick “Brent” Fleming. He had been arrested with her during both the shoplifting and burglary incidents. They were literally partners in crime. Here are his recollections: Brenda and I were always kind of planning things but we never really carried them out. Brenda used to say that there were three dominations in the world. The first domination was people who planned things. The second domination was the people who did minor things like misdemeanours. Then there was the third type of domination like major things such as sniping or burning or blowing things up . . . Brenda said that we were like the third type.11 Lots of times we would plan things like going to kill a cop or blow up a school or mug somebody for their money. Her most favourite thing was to kill a cop. She had two plans to kill a cop. The first was that I would take her .22 pellet gun and she would take her dad’s Luger B.B. gun. We would go to the park where the cops did their reports. The plan was that I was to go to the passenger side window as she walked over to the driver’s window if it was up. She would ask the driver to roll the window down. She’d use the pretense of maybe asking what time it was. When he did roll the window down, she was going to tell him that if he moved, that I was going to blow his head off. She would say things like I had a hair trigger. I was going to stand there pointing the gun at the officer . . . The second plan to kill a cop was to egg his car or break his window. We planned on running then and have him chase us into the boy’s bathroom. We knew that the cop would probably chase us into the bathroom and when he got in there, she would hit him in the face with an axe.

Spencer’s father (Wally) gave her a .22 rifle for Christmas, just a few weeks before her attack. In 2001 she claimed that because he gave her a rifle, “I felt like he wanted me to kill myself.” In 2009, she insisted that she did not want the rifle as a present, but had actually asked for a radio. This statement is contradicted by her own family members. In 1979, her sister, Teresa, said, “I can specifically remember her bugging him about … getting her a .22 rifle. She had been asking him for a long time. He finally got it for her this last Christmas.” Her mother commented, “I hit the ceiling when I heard that Wally gave her a .22 rifle for Christmas. Brenda told me that is what she wanted.” Though her mother was not happy about the gift, Spencer made clear that this was the gift she had asked for.

Two days before her attack, her friend Brent Fleming spent the day with Spencer. Fleming reported, I went over there Saturday and I visited with her. She said that she was going to do something really big Monday . . . She just said, “Wait until Monday and see what I’m going to do. It might even be big enough to make the news.” Spencer also reportedly told Fleming that she would shoot out a window for him

During the attack, Spencer denied any planning for the shooting, claiming, “I just thought of it this morning” and had also discussed committing a sniper attack to multiple peers over a long period of time. Her claim that she just had the idea to shoot people that morning was a lie. In 1993, fourteen years after her attack, Spencer made two claims during her parole hearings. First, she said that she was so drunk and high on drugs that “I started to hallucinate. I saw these commando types. All these people in para-military gear advancing on me from out of the schoolyard. It was so real. I barricaded myself in, got my rifle and started firing.” The claim that she was so impaired by substances that she was hallucinating is completely at odds with her behaviour during the attack. She spoke with both a reporter and a law enforcement negotiator while she was holed up in her house, which is where she conducted a sniper attack on the elementary school across the street. When the reporter asked her why she was shooting people, she responded, “This is a way to cheer up Monday. Oh, by the way, I nailed me a good pig [i.e., police officer].” When asked if she were aware that she had shot three or four people, she said, “Gee, is that all? I thought there were a lot more. I saw lots of feathers flying.” She then ended the conversation by saying, “Sorry, I have to go. I want to shoot some more. I wanna get me another pig.”

Later in the day, while still in position in her house, she told the negotiator, “I’m having a lot of fun.” She went on:

“I’m gonna stay here awhile. I want to have some more fun. It was fun seeing kids being shot in a group … It looked like a herd of cows standing around the one that was shot. It was really easy pickings. It was fun to watch the kids that had red or blue ski jackets. They made the best targets. It was like shooting ducks in a pond it was so easy. I enjoyed watching them squirm around after they had been shot.”

She then expressed her frustration with the custodian because he was trying to get the children out of harm’s way, which was interfering with her fun: She said that the custodian came out and attempted to get everybody off the school grounds and out of the way, at which time she said she shot him. And she shot him because, by her own words, he was making it more difficult for her to shoot the kids because he was getting the targets out of the way.

Bantering with the officer, she paused.

“Let me give you some advice. Don’t chew bubble gum and drink whiskey at the same time. It ruins the bubblegum and you have to throw it away. Also, M&Ms and beer are a bad combination. It’ll make you sick.”

She then roared with laughter.

During the shooting, there were no comments about commandos. Spencer was not in a panic about being attacked. She knew exactly what she was doing and was enjoying herself. She laughed with the reporter and she laughed with the negotiator. Her words were not slurred from alcohol and she had a steady hand and was able to shoot people a long way off. During the same hearing, just minutes after talking about the hallucinations of commandos, Spencer came out with a new and contradictory claim: The S.W.A.T. team lied in court about how many shots they fired, and in what direction they were fired. A big question now emerged as to who, if anyone, was hit from fire from my rifle and who was hit by police fire. She stated, “They [the S.W.A.T. team] lied about not firing at me in the house, and they also apparently lied about not firing toward the schoolyard.” In other words, having just admitted she shot at people in response to hallucinations, she then argued that she did not shoot the victims, the police officers did. Not only were both claims false, but they are mutually exclusive. (Spencer did not make the claim about hallucinations of people attacking her in the hearings in 1994, 2001, or 2005, but returned to it in 2009.)

Having claimed in 1993 that she shot at people because she thought they were attacking her, and also that she didn’t shoot anybody, in 1994 she said that she did fire the gun, but was not aiming at anybody: “I was just aiming up.” She repeated this claim in 2001, stating: “I just stuck the rifle out the window and started shooting.” The parole board did not accept this, pointing out that she would not have wounded and killed the people she did if she had not been aiming carefully. In fact, Spencer’s later claims of not having shot at people were contradicted by her own earlier comments. For her first parole hearing (1993) she prepared a written statement that was read into the record that included the acknowledgement that “on January 29, 1979 [she] barricaded herself in her family home and began firing at students and teachers in the elementary schoolyard across the street.”

Brenda Spencer chained at her hands and ankles leaves the courthouse, escorted by sheriff’s deputies.

The issue of Spencer’s substance use, both in general and specifically on the day of the attack, is a bit murky. As noted above, she claimed to do hard drugs, but her sister didn’t believe these claims. Both her brother and sister, however, acknowledged that she smoked marijuana.Though Spencer gave up the claim that the police shot the victims, she has continued to argue that she was extremely high on drugs during the attack. These claims have at times been extreme. In 1993 she said, “I had potentially lethal levels of drugs in my system at the time”37 and insisted that this was proven by drug screens conducted following her arrest. In 1994, she said that she was so high that she had no recollection of that day: “I don’t remember the shooting at all”38 and “I don’t remember shooting anything.” She then immediately contradicted this and admitted seeing police officers, admitted firing her gun, and acknowledging that she remembered shooting an officer who was helping a victim. In 2001 her claim was even more extreme: she said that she used so many drugs that she had no memory of events for five days, from 26 January through 31 January (her attack was on 29 January). During that same hearing, however, she recalled, “I just stuck the rifle out the window and started shooting,” obviously contradicting her claim that she had no memory of the events. Though she was not noticeably impaired during the attack, drug screens were conducted. Their results have not been made public, but they were referred to multiple times during the hearings over the years. In 1993, it was stated, “Blood and urine samples proved negative for all forms of substances: alcohol and drugs.” Spencer argued that the results actually proved she was severely under the influence but that she was a victim of a conspiracy of silence: “The prosecutor and my own defense attorney covered up this fact and withheld this evidence from the court, and withheld it from all the doctors and psychiatrists who did reports and evaluations on me.” In 1994, Spencer continued to insist that she was high during the attack, claiming, “I have the toxicology reports that show I was on drugs and alcohol.” No such reports were presented, however.

During that same hearing, however, she recalled, “I just stuck the rifle out the window and started shooting,” obviously contradicting her claim that she had no memory of the events. Though she was not noticeably impaired during the attack, drug screens were conducted. Their results have not been made public, but they were referred to multiple times during the hearings over the years. In 1993, it was stated, “Blood and urine samples proved negative for all forms of substances: alcohol and drugs.” Spencer argued that the results actually proved she was severely under the influence but that she was a victim of a conspiracy of silence: “The prosecutor and my own defense attorney covered up this fact and withheld this evidence from the court, and withheld it from all the doctors and psychiatrists who did reports and evaluations on me.” In 1994, Spencer continued to insist that she was high during the attack, claiming, “I have the toxicology reports that show I was on drugs and alcohol.” No such reports were presented, however.

Spencer said nothing about abuse and neglect during her first two parole hearings. Beginning in 2001 (22 years after her attack), however, she began claiming she had been horribly abused. She first made allegations of sexual abuse against her father in 2001. In 2009, she claimed that both parents neglected her and that her father, brother, and sister all were abusive. She also added that she was bullied by her peers. As with all the other issues addressed so far, however, Spencer’s reporting is contradictory. In addition, her comments about her family will be compared to what others have said. Though abuse, especially incest, is typically a secret that outsiders could not be expected to be aware of, Spencer’s comments about her family are vastly different from what is reported by others.

In 2005, Spencer claimed that her father kicked her in the head so hard that she had a head injury. According to Spencer, he covered this up by claiming that she hurt herself in a bicycle accident.

Spencer even claimed that though her sister took her to the hospital, the examining physician never bothered to ask her how she was injured. The problem is that according to the other members of Spencer’s family, this incident never happened. The description quoted above was given in 2009, more than thirty years after the fact. Back in 1979, long before Spencer ever made any allegations that her father kicked her in the head, Eric Hart interviewed her family members. Hart was not investigating the allegations of abuse because no such allegations had been made. In the course of his conversations with Spencer’s mother, brother, and sister, however, they all mentioned the bicycle accident.

  • Her brother, Scott, said: “Brenda was in a bike accident two or three years ago. She hit a pole head-on. She blacked out and was woozy the next day.”
  • Her sister, Teresa, said: “Two years ago she had a bike accident in which she struck her head.”
  • Her mother, Dorothy, said: “A couple of years ago she hit a pole while riding her bike. She was in a complete daze.”

Despite her sister recalling the bicycle accident, Spencer claimed that it was her sister who told her it was abuse: I remember him [her father] coming home from work and being all mad and smacking me in the head. I remember waking up the next day and wondering why my head hurt so bad and that was when my sister told me that he had kicked me in the head. Spencer apparently took a real incident and twisted it to make herself a victim.

In 2001 Spencer told the parole board, “I was sexually abused by my father.” The commissioner commented that he saw no mention of this in her records and asked, “And you never told your probation officer or counsellor?” — to which Spencer replied, “No.” They came back to this issue a few minutes later when the commissioner said, “You’re telling us your father beat you and molested you,” and Spencer replied, “Yes, he did.” Again the commissioner asked, “And you never reported any abuse?” Spencer said, “No. I was scared to.” After moving on to other issues, they came back to the incest allegations yet another time. The commissioner once again noted the lack of documentation regarding this. This time, instead of maintaining that this was because she had never told anybody, Spencer reversed her position and claimed that she told her psychologists but they said: “I’m trying to put it off on my father” and therefore never made any mention of it in their records. The commissioner said he was very troubled by these allegations and asked about initiating an investigation into the matter and whether or not Spencer would testify. At this point, she made an extraordinary claim: Spencer: There has already been an investigation done. Commissioner: By whom? Spencer: Right after I got arrested. Commissioner: Who investigated? Spencer: The City of San Diego. Commissioner: But you told me you hadn’t told anyone about it. Spencer: I had told my counsellors.

This was a remarkable exchange in two ways. First, Spencer had twice clearly stated earlier in the hearing that she had not told anyone about the incest, claiming that she had been afraid to disclose this information. When the commissioner took her allegations seriously, she contradicted herself and said she had told her counsellors. What is more remarkable, however, is that she was telling someone who was overseeing her case that since being in prison her incest allegations had not only been reported but had been investigated by the police. She said this despite the fact that the commissioner had reviewed her record and informed her that there was no mention of any claims of sexual abuse.

There are yet more contradictions, though they are smaller in scale. In 2001 she reported that the incest occurred “till I was 14.” In 2009, the incest reportedly lasted until she was 16. In 2009, she first said that the molestation began at 9, and then later in the hearing it was reported as starting at age 7. Spencer made another startling claim in 2009, reporting that her father had admitted the incest and apologized to her. Though Mr. Spencer wrote letters in support of Spencer’s parole, no letter was ever produced in the hearing to indicate that he had admitted to any sexual misconduct.

Having made the incest allegations in 2001, in the 2005 hearing Spencer added allegations of physical abuse by her father: “I remember being hit in the face a lot. Being hit in the ribs. Being yelled at, called names.” In 2009, she added allegations that her brother also was physically abusive: “My older brother would also smack me around and grab me by the throat and toss me around.” Then she added her sister to her abusers, claiming, “My father, brother and sister all verbally abused me.” She also added her peers to the list of victimizers, stating, “I got picked on constantly about my looks, my clothes.” Nor could she let her mother be unaccused: “I was neglected by my mother and father.” She complained that her parents didn’t take care of her, that she had to cook for herself and fend for herself from an early age.

Of course, she could have been abused and neglected. What is puzzling is that if there were extenuating circumstances or mitigating factors in her case, why did she wait up to thirty years to mention them? For example, why didn’t she ever say a word about being bullied by her peers until her fifth parole hearing?

Spencer’s relationship with her father was not always harmonious, but there were no reports that he ever mistreated her. In fact, multiple reports suggest that Spencer was often a defiant child who posed serious challenges to her father as a parent. Brent Fleming’s mother said: “I can’t remember any discipline or her being put on restriction,” the woman said. When there were problems, [Mr.] Spencer would break down and cry, the woman said, and ask the girl, “Why do you do these things?” In other words, the daughter caused the father to suffer, rather than the other way around.

Scott Spencer made the following observations:

They [Brenda and their father] shared a lot of interests, such as photography, hiking, and they went a lot to the mountains . . . My dad rarely had to physically punish us. He had good control of me and Brenda. He was somewhat strict when we were young kids. However, I thought in recent years he was too lenient with Brenda, in that he should have punished her sometimes rather than simply take the time to explain why he was upset with her. Basically, they had a great relationship.

Spencer’s sister Teresa commented:

Brenda was a very difficult person to get along with. She was especially difficult to please. She always wanted things her own way and often talked back to my father. When she wanted something badly, she would keep after him until she got it … My father really tried to make her happy. He spent an incredible amount of time with her. They would go to the mountains every weekend. He did not require her to do any chores, and he placed few restrictions on her. I did the housework . . . Brenda liked my dad, but she seemed to prefer our mom. I think that was because there were no rules at mom’s house … My dad, however, required her to conform somewhat to house rules. I think she was a headache to him in that she often talked back, but he spent a lot of time with her and did a lot of things for her.

Spencer’s mother said: It seems that over the last couple of years they [Brenda and father] got along really well, especially the last year when Wally began spending so much time with her . . . I do not think, especially a couple of years ago, that he disciplined her enough. She could always wrap him around her finger. He never spanked her. She would always get her way.

A friend of the family noted:

I thought that Wally and Brenda had a terrific relationship. He spent a tremendous amount of time with her and was trying to really help her. She seemed to respect him and to love him . . . They often teased each other and joked around. This hardly sounds like the relationship of a girl who was beaten, molested and neglected by her father. In fact, several people indicated that Spencer was difficult to manage and suggested that Mr Spencer should have done more to control his headstrong and manipulative daughter.

In 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer killed 2 people. When asked why she did it? “I don’t like Mondays.”

Life behind bars agrees with Brenda. She is a model prisoner. In her 2005 bid for parole she denied having any memory of the event and said that, if freed, she’d become a productive member of society, pursuing a job as a forklift operator.The parole board decided to keep her locked up.

During a 2009 parole hearing, her most recent, she insisted that she had not intended to shoot anybody. “So, why did you commit this crime?” the head parole commissioner asked. “Because I wanted to die,” she said. “I was trying to commit suicide.”

“Why pick the school across the street?” the commissioner asked.

“Because I knew that if I fired on the school the police would show up, and they would shoot me and kill me,” she said. “And every time I had tried suicide in the previous year I had screwed it up.”

“Why did you have to shoot the people at the school?” the commissioner asked.

“I wasn’t specifically aiming at people,” she said. “I was shooting into the parking lot.”

The commissioner inquired how many rounds she had fired, and she said she did not recall.

“Well, that’s pretty good shooting to hit as many folks as you did if you’re not trying to hit anybody from across the street,” the commissioner noted.

“I don’t remember aiming at anybody,” Spencer insisted.

“Do you remember them taking cover?” the commissioner asked.

“Vaguely,” she said.

The commissioner asked if she remembered the police coming, and she said she did.

“You hit one of those fellows, too,” the commissioner noted.

“Uh-hmm,” Spencer said.

The commissioner reminded her that she had eventually surrendered.

“[You] put your gun down,” the commissioner observed. “You didn’t follow through with your plan.”

“No, I had gotten scared,” she said.

“This gun was a gift?”

“Yes,” she responded.

“From whom?”

“My father.”

The commissioner observed that Spencer had described a dark side to her father, while others described him as a decent man.

“He liked to keep appearances up, that everything was fine in the house,” Spencer now said.

“What about your mother?” the commissioner asked.

“She just wasn’t there,” Spencer said.

“But your father was always there.”

“Yeah.”

“And apparently you two slept in the same bed?”

“Yes.”

She had submitted a written statement in which she alleged that her father had begun fondling her when she was 9 and had sexually assaulted her virtually every night.

The commissioner said they would get back to all that. He returned to the shooting.

“You didn’t go to school that day?” the commissioner asked.

“No, I wasn’t feeling good,” she replied.

She said she had been under the influence of alcohol, pot, and downers.

“They made me numb so I didn’t feel anything,” she said.

She confirmed that she had heard the kids in the school across the street.

“A lot of kids laughing and doing their thing?” the commissioner asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Did that upset you?”

“No.”

“It didn’t upset you that they seemed to have happier lives?”

“No,” she said. “I was just set on committing suicide.”

“I am sorry you had to go through everything you went through, but what I’m trying to do is find out why you would open fire and kill two people and hurt so many others,” the commissioner said. “You indicate you weren’t really trying to hit anybody—but you did a heck of a job of hitting a lot of people.”

“The only thing I was concentrating on was getting the police there so that they could shoot me,” she said.

“Well, you could have shot out one window of the school and the police would have come.”

“I didn’t think that.”

“You didn’t have any anger at the children?”

“No.”

“You weren’t trying to hit anybody?”

“Not that I remember.”

The commissioner asked if she recalled saying she had fired on the schoolyard because “I don’t like Mondays.”

“I might have said that,” she replied. “It would have been the drugs and the alcohol talking.”

The commissioner quoted the police negotiator’s report, which said she had told him, ”It was fun to watch the children that had red and blue ski jackets on, as they made perfect targets.” The negotiator added that she told him she “liked to watch them squirm around after they had been shot.”

“It’s entirely possible I said that,” Spencer told the parole board.

“Do you have any idea why you’d go out of your way to harm so many innocent people?” the commissioner asked

“I didn’t consider that other people would get hurt,” she said. “I didn’t think it all the way through”

“You’re shooting people as they come to the aid of others,” he said. “You’re shooting these people as they become targets, and yet you told me that you didn’t intend to hit anyone.”

“No,” she said.

“Are you pretty good with a rifle?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I guess.”

She was asked if any adults had seen danger signs before the shooting.

“A month before I was arrested, my [high school] counsellor took me to see a psychiatrist,” she reported.

She said the psychiatrist had recommended she be hospitalized as a danger to herself and to others.

“My dad told them that nothing was wrong with me and everything was fine, and leave us alone,” she recalled.

That had been just before Christmas. She had asked her father for a radio.

“I don’t know why he bought me a gun,” she said. The San Diego District Attorney’s Office sent a representative to the hearing. He informed the board that on the Saturday before the shooting Spencer had told another teen that something big was going to happen on Monday that would be on TV and radio.

“On Monday morning, January 29th, she asked her father if she could stay home from school because she didn’t feel well,” the deputy district attorney reported. “Her father left home for work around 7 o’clock in the morning. Then the inmate proceeded to commit one of the most notorious crimes in the history of this nation.”

He went on: “At 8:30 a.m., the children were lining up to enter Cleveland Elementary School… She picked up her .22 calibre, semiautomatic scoped rifle and began shooting children. Principal Burton Wragg heard the shooting and ran out to get the children out of harm’s way, and the inmate shot him in the chest and killed him. The head custodian, Michael Suchar, known as ‘Mr. Mike’ to the children, ran to Mr Wragg’s aid, and the inmate shot him in the chest and killed him. She shot eight children, and she shot a responding police officer, Robert Robb, in the neck. But for the heroic efforts of a police officer who risked his life to drive a trash truck in front of her residence to block her field of fire, no doubt further children would have been shot.”

The D.A. representative added that Spencer had complained to the police negotiator that the custodian had tried to get everybody off the school grounds.

“She shot him because, by her own words, he was making it more difficult for her to shoot the kids,” the representative said. “The number of shots fired and the number of vital hits speaks of incredibly accurate, directed shooting, and these were moving targets.” The representative further reported that blood and urine samples taken after Spencer’s arrest tested clean. He concluded that no drugs or alcohol had been talking when she said she just didn’t like Mondays.

“Basically, what she’s telling this board are a series of untruths,” the representative concluded.

The commissioner read into the record several victim-impact statements. One was from Wilfred Suchar, son of the murdered custodian, Michael Suchar. He said his wife had heard on the radio of a shooting at the school and called him at work. He had gone to his parent’s home to tell his mother, Valentina.

“We found her singing as she gardened in the backyard,” the son recalled. “We were all very upset and shocked on the way to the hospital because no one would tell us Michael’s condition. When we arrived, we found him not in the hospital room, but down in the basement, dead. He had died trying to help the children and Principal Wragg, killed by Spencer trying to liven up her Monday.”

He said that his mother never recovered. “She was lonely and scared, and became more and more depressed,” he said. “There didn’t seem much I or the rest of the family could do to help her.”

He went on to say that his father “had gotten out alive from some rough times in the Pacific during World War II. He was then a part of the Allied occupying forces in northern Germany. Here he met his wife-to-be, Valentina. She, because of the language and cultural differences in the United States, always counted on him to manage their affairs. Suddenly, he was gone. I think her premature death in 1991 was at least partly the result of this traumatic experience.”

He ended by saying on behalf of his deceased parents and the surviving members of the family that they opposed parole for Spencer.

“My question is, will there be another boring Monday for her?” he asked.

Burton Wragg (left), principal of Grover Cleveland Elementary school, and Mike Suchar (right), a custodian for the school, died in sniper attack by 16-year-old Brenda Spencer. (© BETTMANN/CORBIS)

The custodian’s brother, Andrew Suchar also submitted a statement, noting that Michael had survived two ship sinkings during the war only to be killed by a 16-year-old in a schoolyard. The brother said that although his widowed sister-in-law lived until 1991, “her life actually ended in January 1979. The victims are not only those killed but the survivors who live the tragedy for the rest of their lives.”

Spencer becomes eligible again in 2019. Her crime is seen as a turning point in American history, the first of its kind in the country. Brenda would become known as the mother of such schoolyard massacres as Columbine and Newtown. In a 2001 statement, she acknowledged her possible role as the inspiration for later generations of angry young monsters. “With every school shooting, I feel I’m partially responsible,” she said. “What if they got the idea from what I did?”

Almost exactly 10 years later there was another shooting at another school named Cleveland Elementary, this one in Stockton, California. Five students were killed and 29 were injured. The event was a “grim reminder” to survivors of the 1979 shooting, who described themselves as “shocked, saddened, horrified” by the eerie similarities to their own traumatic experience.

A killer walked onto a schoolyard in Stockton and opened fire on children, killing and wounding with bursts from a semiautomatic rifle. A teacher was also wounded in the assault, which lasted only three to four minutes. For Christy Buell, the news was a grim reminder, an ugly blast of history repeating itself. She was one of the eight children wounded Jan. 29, 1979, almost exactly a decade before, when teen-age sniper Brenda Spencer opened fire on schoolchildren in San Diego. Part of the creepy flashback for Buell was learning that the school in Stockton bears the same name as the one in San Diego, Cleveland Elementary. “I was scared for those people,” Buell said adding that she was “shaking” just in having to discuss the incident in an interview. “I felt really sorry for them because I know exactly what they’re feeling . . . . I went through the same terrible thing.”

Buell, then 19, was then a young 9-year-old fourth-grader still coping with the death of her mother, who lost the battle to leukaemia. Buell said the grief her father felt, losing a wife, almost losing a daughter, was unimaginable. Buell was then working at a day-care centre not far from where the Stockton shootings occurred. Her work with children made her wonder all the more why someone would ever want to harm them. Buell was shot twice by Spencer, in the abdomen and in the lower back. She was hospitalized for a month and spent 18 months recuperating. “There’s no other way to say it,” she said with a quivering voice. “I’ll just never get over it.” She suffers no physical repercussions, only the psychological fallout, which she compared to a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome, not unlike that experienced by some veterans of the Vietnam War. The same can be said not only by victims but also their parents.

Lee Selvig is an attorney, a family law specialist in San Diego. His daughter, Monica, was shot in the stomach, the bullet exiting her back close to the spine. She suffers no lasting physical effects now, although Selvig asked that Monica not be interviewed; he would speak for her. “I’m not going to deny the trauma,” he said. “Even before, the incident was constantly on the minds of the family. We haven’t been able to shake it. I heard Michael Mantell (a San Diego psychologist) interviewed on the radio this morning, and he pointed out something really beneficial. He said families must emphasize the positive. I have to say it improved our family’s relationships, drew us closer together. It also impressed upon us how fragile our lives really are. It woke us up to our own mortality.” Selvig said the school’s bearing the same name carried an eerie afterglow that was almost indescribable. Selvig sees as one of the saddest tragedies Monica’s losing of an illusion. He said those wounded at Cleveland Elementary in San Diego were shocked into the world of adult reality without being allowed to make the transition gradually.

“A child has the right to grow up feeling that they’re out of harm’s way,” Selvig said. “They have a right to a childlike aura of invincibility. Brenda Spencer took that away from them forever.”

Julie Robles, 20, suffered a gunshot wound to the side that day in San Diego. Doctors marvelled that the bullet that struck Robles passed right through her, almost hitting her kidneys but striking no major organs and leaving her with only a minor injury. The psychological wounds were much greater. Robles has been traumatized by news accounts of snipers or gun-wielding psychopaths walking into a public place and opening fire. She wrestles with the feelings for days, and, just when it seems she’s over it, she hears about another. Thoughts seem to leap out of nowhere that tear at her spirit and toy with her equilibrium. She thinks about Brenda Spencer from time to time, wondering if the woman is safely locked up, she is, in the California Institution for Women in Frontera and whether she will ever return to do Robles harm. For Christy Buell, the saddest memory is that two men she knew, good men, were slain that day. Spencer murdered Principal Burton Wragg and custodian Michael Suchar.

“The loss of two men that put their lives in danger to save children . . . that’s the hardest part for me,” Buell said, “the part no one will ever undo.”

San Diego’s Cleveland Elementary School was closed in 1983, along with a dozen other schools around the city, due to declining enrollment. In the ensuing decades, it was leased to several different charter and private schools. The site currently houses the Magnolia Science Academy, a public charter middle school serving students in grades 6-9.

Laura L. Lovett, a founding co-editor of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth and an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argued in an opinion essay that the San Diego shooting was overlooked by society because the perpetrator was a female. Lovett said that society can learn from cases of attacks instigated by women.

Making claims to avoid responsibility or gain sympathy is a behaviour seen in other psychopathic school shooters who survived their attacks. Spencer’s post-attack claims resemble those of other psychopathic shooters who tried to deny responsibility and/or elicit sympathy in order to mitigate the consequences of their crimes.

The constant dishonesty on the part of psychopathic shooters appears to be the result of several traits. First, their lack of empathy and lack of conscience apparently result in their simply not seeing the significance of having harmed or killed human beings. It just doesn’t register with them. In addition, they seem constitutionally incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions. Dr. Robert Hare, an expert in psychopaths, commented on their “remarkable ability to rationalize their behaviour and to shrug off personal responsibility.” When this is combined with a flagrant disregard for the truth, it becomes natural for them to say anything that they think will be to their benefit. Hare noted this among the inmates he worked with: “The psychopaths among them were expert at distorting and molding the truth to suit their purposes.” He cited a psychopath who was asked if he ever told lies. The man responded:

“Are you kidding? I lie like I breathe, one as much as the other.”

Hare explained this tendency:

With their powers of imagination in gear and focused on themselves, psychopaths appear amazingly unfazed by the possibility — or even by the certainty — of being found out. When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, they are seldom perplexed or embarrassed — they simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so that they appear to be consistent with the lie.

This tendency is particularly challenging to deal with when psychopaths claim to be victims, which is very common: “They view themselves as poorly treated and thus victims. They constantly cry ‘victim’ when things do not go as they want.” This is exactly what happened with Brenda Spencer. The longer she was denied parole, the more she claimed she was a victim. A sensitive person is likely to want to believe a story of victimization rather than risk being callous to someone who is reporting a history of incest or other kinds of abuse.

Psychopaths are remarkably good at knowing how to appeal to other people’s sense of empathy in order to manipulate them. To quote Hare a final time:

“A good psychopath can play a concerto on anyone’s heartstrings.” That is the danger in talking with a psychopath; that, and sorting out truth from fiction.

In the meantime, Brenda Ann Spencer will sit as inmate W14944 in the California Women’s Institution, seeming to see no irony in having used heated metal to brand the words “Courage” and “Pride” across her chest. She is now 54 and will no doubt hear of more school shootings and ask herself if they got the idea from what she did on that long ago Monday.

The First Modern School Shooter Feels Responsible for the Rest

Brenda-Spencer – San Diego Police Historical Association

Brenda Spencer – Cleveland Elementary School shooting | Guts and …

Justice Story: ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ – NY Daily News

Brenda Spencer | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers

Brenda Spencer | School Shooters .info

Brenda Spencer Parole Hearing 1993

Brenda Spencer Parole Hearing 1994

Brenda Spencer Parole Hearing 2001

Brenda Spencer Parole Hearing 2005

Brenda Spencer Parole Hearing 2009

Brenda Spencer: Sorting Out the Contradictions

Expanding the Sample: Five School Shooters

Cleveland Elementary School shooting (San Diego) – Wikipedia

Woman Imprisoned for ’79 School Slayings Withdraws Parole Request …

School shooting in San Diego – Jan 29, 1979 – HISTORY.com

The World of Crime: I don’t like Mondays – Brenda Spencer, the first …

One of the first school shooters was actually a teenage girl – Timeline

 


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