Cleveland Elementary School shooting (San Diego)

Last updated
Cleveland Elementary School shooting
Location San Diego, California
Coordinates 32°47′48″N117°00′41″W / 32.79673°N 117.01146°W / 32.79673; -117.01146 Coordinates: 32°47′48″N117°00′41″W / 32.79673°N 117.01146°W / 32.79673; -117.01146
DateJanuary 29, 1979
TargetTeachers, Students and faculty at Cleveland Elementary School
Weapons Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle
Non-fatal injuries
PerpetratorBrenda Spencer

The Grover Cleveland Elementary School shooting took place on January 29, 1979, at a public elementary school in San Diego, California, United States. The principal and a custodian were killed; eight children and a police officer were injured. A 16-year-old girl, Brenda Spencer, who lived in a house across the street from the school, was convicted of the shootings. Tried as an adult, she pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, and was given an indefinite sentence. As of April 2019, she remains in prison.

Elementary school school for students at the ages of 3–12 to receive primary education

Elementary school is a school for students in their first school years, where they get primary education before they enter secondary education. The exact ages vary by country. In the United States, elementary schools usually have 6 grades with pupils aged between 6 and 13 years old, but the age can be up to 10 or 14 years old as well. In Japan, the age of pupils in elementary school ranges from 6 to 12, after which the pupils enter junior high school.

San Diego City in California, United States

San Diego is a city in the U.S. state of California. It is in San Diego County, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles and immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second and fifth most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.


A reporter reached Spencer by phone while she was still in the house after the shooting, and asked her why she did it. She answered: "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day," [1] [2] which inspired Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers to write the Boomtown Rats song "I Don't Like Mondays". [3]

Bob Geldof Irish singer-songwriter, author and political activist

Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof, is an Irish singer-songwriter, author, political activist and occasional actor. He rose to prominence as the lead singer of the Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats in the late 1970s and early 1980s, alongside the punk rock movement. The band had Number One hits with his compositions "Rat Trap" and "I Don't Like Mondays". Geldof co-wrote "Do They Know It's Christmas?", one of the best-selling singles of all time, and starred in Pink Floyd's 1982 film Pink Floyd – The Wall as "Pink".

Johnnie Fingers is an Irish keyboardist and co founding member of the new wave band, The Boomtown Rats. He was notable for his attire of striped pyjamas on stage as well as his melodic piano style.

I Dont Like Mondays song by Bob Geldof

"I Don't Like Mondays" is a song by Irish group The Boomtown Rats about the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego. It was released in 1979 as the lead single from their third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing. The song was a number one single in the UK Singles Chart for four weeks during the summer of 1979, and ranks as the sixth biggest hit of the UK in 1979. Written by Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers, the piano ballad was the band's second single to reach number one on the UK chart.

Brenda Spencer

Brenda Spencer
Spencer in 1996
Brenda Ann Spencer

(1962-04-03) April 3, 1962 (age 57)
San Diego, California
Residence California Institution for Women, Chino, California
Years active7
Criminal charge2 counts of murder
1 count of assault with a deadly weapon
Criminal penalty25 years to life in prison
Parent(s)Wallace Spencer
Dot Spencer

Brenda Spencer (born April 3, 1962) lived in the San Carlos neighborhood of San Diego, California in a house across the street from Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the San Diego Unified School District. Age 16, she was 5'2" (157 cm) and had bright red hair. [4] [5] [6] She is said to have self-identified as "having been gay from birth." [7] After her parents separated, she lived with her father, Wallace Spencer, in poverty. They slept on a single mattress on the living room floor, with empty alcohol bottles throughout the house. [5] [7]

San Carlos, San Diego Community of San Diego in California

San Carlos is a neighborhood in the eastern area of San Diego, California. It borders the neighborhoods of Del Cerro, Tierrasanta, and Allied Gardens, the city of La Mesa, and Mission Trails Regional Park. The neighborhood extends to Cowles Mountain at the north.

Grover Cleveland 22nd and 24th president of the United States

Stephen Grover Cleveland was an American politician and lawyer who was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, the only president in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms in office. He won the popular vote for three presidential elections—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was one of two Democrats to be elected president during the era of Republican political domination dating from 1861 to 1933.

San Diego Unified School District

San Diego Unified School District is the school district and a land investment corporation based in San Diego, California, United States. It was founded in 1854. As of 2005 it represents over 200 institutions and has over 15,800 employees. The average teacher in the district makes around $67,000 a year, with a benefit package worth around $24,000 a year. The district includes 113 elementary schools, 24 middle schools, 4 atypical schools, 10 alternative schools, 27 high schools and 25 charter schools.

Acquaintances said Spencer expressed hostility toward policemen, had spoken about shooting one and had talked of doing something big to get on television. [1] [5] Although Spencer showed exceptional ability as a photographer, winning first prize in a Humane Society competition, she was generally uninterested in school. She attended Patrick Henry High School where one teacher recalled frequently inquiring if she was awake in class. Later, during tests while she was in custody, it was discovered Spencer had an injury to the temporal lobe of her brain. It was attributed to an accident on her bicycle. [8]

Patrick Henry High School (California) high school in San Diego, California

Patrick Henry High School is a public high school in San Diego, California. It is part of the San Diego Unified School District. It is attended by students in grades 9-12 residing in Del Cerro, San Carlos, Allied Gardens, Mission Valley and the College Area.

Temporal lobe part of the brain

The temporal lobe is involved in processing sensory input into derived meanings for the appropriate retention of visual memory, language comprehension, and emotion association.

In early 1978, staff at a facility for problem students, into which Spencer had been referred for truancy, informed her parents that she was suicidal. That summer, Spencer, who was known to hunt birds in the neighborhood, was arrested for shooting out the windows of Cleveland Elementary with a BB gun and for burglary. [1] [9] In December, a psychiatric evaluation arranged by her probation officer recommended that Spencer be admitted to a mental hospital for depression, but her father refused to give permission. For Christmas 1978, he gave her a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a telescopic sight and 500 rounds of ammunition. [5] [7] Spencer later said, "I asked for a radio and he bought me a gun." When asked why he might have done that, she answered, "I felt like he wanted me to kill myself." [7] [10]

Truancy unexcused absence from school

Truancy is any intentional, unjustified, unauthorized, or illegal absence from compulsory education. It is absence caused by students of their own free will, and usually does not refer to legitimate excused absences, such as ones related to medical conditions. Truancy is usually explicitly defined in the school's handbook of policies and procedures. Some children whose parents claim to homeschool have also been found truant in the United States. Other terms for truancy include playing hooky, skiving off, and bunking. Attending school but not going to class is called skipping class, cutting class, or, more formally, internal truancy. Recent estimates in the United States suggest that approximately 11% of adolescents have skipped school during the past month.

Suicidal ideation Having an unusual preoccupation with suicide

Suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts, is thinking about, considering, or planning suicide. The range of suicidal ideation varies from fleeting thoughts, to extensive thoughts, to detailed planning.

BB gun

BB guns are a type of air guns designed to shoot metallic ball projectiles called BBs — metal balls approximately the same size as the 0.180 inches (4.6 mm) "BB" lead birdshot. Modern BB guns usually have a barrel with a bore caliber of 4.5 mm (0.177 in) and are available in many varieties. These guns usually use steel BB shots, either zinc- or copper-plated to resist corrosion, and measuring 4.3 to 4.4 mm in diameter and 0.33 to 0.35 g in weight. Some manufacturers still make the traditional lead balls around 0.48 to 0.50 g in weight and slightly larger in diameter, which are generally intended for use in rifled barrels due to lead having better malleability.


On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, Spencer began shooting at children waiting for Principal Burton Wragg (age 53) to open the gates to Cleveland Elementary. [11] She injured eight children. Spencer shot and killed Wragg as he tried to help children. She also killed custodian Mike Suchar (age 56) as he tried to pull a student to safety. [5] A police officer (age 28), responding to a call for assistance during the incident, was wounded in the neck as he arrived. [5]

After firing thirty times, Spencer barricaded herself inside her home for several hours. While there, she spoke by telephone to a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune . Spencer told the reporter she shot at the schoolchildren and adults because, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day." She also told police negotiators the children and adults whom she shot were easy targets and that she was going to "come out shooting." [5] [2] Spencer has been repeatedly reminded of these statements at parole hearings. [12] Ultimately, she surrendered. [5] [7] Police officers found beer and whiskey bottles cluttered around the house but said Spencer did not appear to be intoxicated when arrested. [13]

Imprisonment of Spencer

Spencer was charged as an adult and pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. On April 4, 1980, a day after her 18th birthday, she was sentenced to 25 years to life. [14] In prison, Spencer was diagnosed as an epileptic and received medication to treat her epilepsy and depression. While at the California Institution for Women in Chino, she worked repairing electronic equipment. [7] [15]

Under the terms of her indeterminate sentence, Spencer became eligible for hearings to consider her suitability for parole in 1993. Normally, very few people convicted on a charge of murder were able to obtain parole in California before 2011. [16] As of December 2015, she has been unsuccessful at four parole board hearings. At her first hearing, Spencer said she had hoped police would shoot her and that she had been a user of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crime, which contradicted the results of drug tests done when she was taken into custody. In her 2001 hearing, Spencer first claimed that her father had been subjecting her to beatings and sexual abuse, but he said the allegations were not true. The parole board chairman said that as she had not previously told any prison staff about the allegations, he doubted whether they were true. [17] In 2005, a San Diego deputy district attorney cited an incident of self-harm from four years earlier when Spencer's girlfriend was released from jail, as showing that she was psychotic and unfit to be released. [15] The self-harm is commonly reported as scratching the words "courage" and "pride" into her own skin; however, Spencer corrected this during her parole hearing as "runes" reading "Unforgiven" and "alone." In 2009, the board again refused her application for parole and ruled it would be ten years before she would be considered again. [11] [18]

As of February 2019, she remains in prison and is housed at the California Institution for Women in Chino. [19]


San Diego Unified School District "They Cared Memorial" plaque San Diego Unified School District They Cared Memorial.svg
San Diego Unified School District "They Cared Memorial" plaque

Spencer was the inspiration for the song "I Don't Like Mondays," written by Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers for their band the Boomtown Rats, which was released later that year. [15] Geldof and his band were in San Diego performing at The Roxy Theater, a small movie theater and concert hall in the Pacific Beach district, on February 27, 1979, and the preliminary legal proceedings against Spencer were headlining local news broadcasts. [20] I Don't Like Mondays was also the title of a 2006 television documentary about the event. [21]

A plaque and flagpole were erected at Cleveland Elementary in memory of the shooting victims. The school was closed in 1983, along with a dozen other schools around the city, due to declining enrollment. [22] In the ensuing decades, it was leased to several different charter and private schools. From 2005 to 2017, it housed the Magnolia Science Academy, [23] a public charter middle school serving students in grades 6-8. [24]

On January 17, 1989, almost ten years after the events at San Diego's Grover Cleveland Elementary, there was another shooting at a school named Grover Cleveland Elementary, this one in Stockton, California. Five students were killed and thirty were injured. One survivor of the 1979 shooting described herself as "shocked, saddened, horrified" by the eerie similarities to their own traumatic experience. [25]



Bob Geldof, then the lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, read about the incident when a news story about it came off the telex at WRAS-FM, the campus radio station at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He was particularly struck by Spencer's claim that she did it because she did not like Mondays, and began writing a song about it, also incorporating the reporters' "Tell me why?," called "I Don't Like Mondays". It was published in July 1979 and was number one for four weeks in the United Kingdom, [26] and was the band's biggest hit in their native Ireland. Although it did not make the Top 40 in the U.S., it still received extensive radio airplay (outside of the San Diego area) despite the Spencer family's efforts to prevent it. [3] Geldof has later mentioned that, "[Spencer] wrote to me saying 'she was glad she'd done it because I'd made her famous,' which is not a good thing to live with." [27]


The 1999 book Babyface Killers: Horrifying True Stories of America's Youngest Murderers, authored by Clifford L. Linedecker dedicates the book's prologue to Spencer and refers to her crimes in multiple chapters. [28]

The 2008 book Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings, by Jonathan Fast, analyzes the Cleveland Elementary shooting and four other cases from a psychological perspective. These are the other shootings reported on: the Columbine High School shooting, the shootings at Simon's Rock College, the Bethel Regional High School shooting, and the Pearl High School shooting. [29]


The Lifetime Movies, formerly known as Lifetime Movie Network (LMN), series of youths who commit acts of murder Killer Kids released the episode Deadly Compulsion depicting Spencer's crimes, first air date: September 3, 2014. [30] [31] [32]

The Investigation Discovery network portrayed Brenda Spencer's crimes in one of the three cases presented on the crime documentary series Deadly Women , episode Thrill Killers , first air date: October 9, 2008. [33] [34] [35]

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Cleveland school shooting may refer to:

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  1. 1 2 3 "School Sniper Suspect Bragged Of 'Something Big To Get On TV'". Evening Independent . Associated Press. 30 January 1979.
  2. 1 2 Jones, Tamara (November 1, 1998). "Look back in sorrow: in 1979, a teenage girl opened fire on a suburban San Diego elementary school; today, as the nation reels from a rash of similar tragedies, the survivors still struggle to understand why it happened". Good Housekeeping. Archived from the original on May 16, 2011.
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  24. "Home page". Magnolia Science Academy. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
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  27. Bob Geldof reveals the truth of "I Don't Like Mondays"!. Event occurs at 2:08. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
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Further reading