Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Grover Cleveland Elementary School Sniper

St. Petersburg Times, January 30, 1979 (Enlarge)

I know it's passe to mention past school massacres or to even utter the names of the shooters but while searching some old newspapers on Google News Archives I came across one of the first contemporary shootings. Which is of some interest because not only was the would be assassin a female but a teenage girl to boot.

The incident occurred on January 29, 1979 in San Diego, California at Grover Cleveland Elementary school. The shooter, a 16-year-old high school student named Brenda Spencer, a relative loner with few friends who had a long-standing fascination with guns and television violence, began firing at the school grounds from her father's home across the street. At the end of the 15 minute rampage 40 shots had been fired and two people lay dead. Though a lengthy standoff ensued between police and the suspect it ended in a peaceful surrender

Struck and killed were principal Burton Wragg as he rushed from the building to help several children who had been shot and custodian Mike Suchar who attempted to pull the downed administrator to safety. One young girl at the scene recalled Suchar sprawling on the ground and asking for his shoes though they had remained on his feet. Suchar was known as Mr. Mike by the children and one youngster at a school memorial the following day remembered him as "one of the best custodians this school ever had." and another student, 11-year-old Victoria Guerrero wondered if his family would be taken care of.

St. Petersburg Times, January 30, 1979 (enlarge)

Patrolman Robert Robb was one of the first policeman to arrive at the scene and was wounded in the neck but survived his injuries. 8 children were also wounded. Among them, Crystal Hardy, 10, Audrey Stites, 7, and Julie Robles, 10, were released from the hospital after their wounds were treated. Charles "Cam" Miller, 9, was hospitalized with a wound to his left shoulder as was Craig Verner, 8, who was listed in good condition. Both were later released as well.

Mary Clark, 8, was also wounded but bleeding slightly with little pain she was too frightened to tell anybody until several hours later when the children were transferred to another building. She was hospitalized with an abdominal wound, treated and released. Christy Buell and Monica Selvig, both 9, were the most seriously injured and remained in the hospital in critical but stable condition after surgery.

It was a frosty morning the day of the shooting and Buell was pretending to ice skate in the grass along with classmate Cam Miller when the shooting started just before 9AM. After being shot in the stomach and buttocks she crawled towards the school and her cries caught the attention of a teacher who pulled the young girl into the school while two more shots rang out overhead and struck the door.

Spencer, a petite redhead, was known as a strange girl with wild mood swings who fantasized about shooting cops. Apparently troubled by the dissolution of her parent's marriage and the absence of her mother  in daily life, friends said that her behavior worsened when she was high and incidents such as burning cat's tails were not unusual for Brenda. She loved police dramas such as SWAT and would exclaim, "Oh wow!" whenever a police officer was shot. A few weeks beforehand she had told whoever would listen that she was going to do something big that would land her on television.

Her words became prophetic when news crews broadcast the standoff that ensued and even contacted Spencer on the telephone. It was during one of several interviews that she flippantly replied, "I just did it for the fun of it. I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig (policeman) I think and I want to shoot more. I'm having too much fun (to surrender)." Remarks that would inspire the Boomtown Rats' hit song I Don't Like Mondays.

Spencer was tried as an adult and plead guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced 25 year to life. She has come up for parole on four different occasions but was denied each time. A lack of remorse hasn't helped her cause and neither does the fact that she maintains that her drug usage at the time was the catalyst for the attack.

A bizarre postscript to the tragedy occurred in June 1980 when Spencer's father Wallace married his daughter's former juvenile cellmate and 17-year-old runaway Sheila McCoy whom he had impregnated. A fact which startled the District Attorney but apparently didn't cross any legal boundaries. McCoy apparently abandoned the child at Spencer's home after giving birth.

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