On Monday, January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer killed two people and wounded nine others when she opened fired on San Diego’s Grover Cleveland Elementary School with a .22-caliber rifle from her house directly across the street from the school. When asked why she did it, Brenda Spencer said “I just don’t like Mondays.” At the time she also told negotiators, “It was a lot of fun seeing children shot.”
Brenda Ann Spencer was convicted of the shootings. She was tried as an adult and pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
Ironically, during the shooting, a reporter who was randomly calling houses near the school, looking for information about what was going on, reached Brenda by chance. When he asked if she had any information, she freely admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. When asked why she was doing what she was doing, one of the things she supposedly said was: “I don’t like Mondays.”
Brenda Spencer lived in the San Carlos neighborhood of San Diego, California in a house directly across the street from Grover Cleveland Elementary School, San Diego Unified School District. Aged 16, Brenda was 5′ 2″ tall and unusually thin. She had bright red hair and, according to one classmate, was “pretty crummy looking”.
Acquaintances later said Brenda Spencer expressed negative attitudes toward police and had spoken often about shooting one. Teachers described her as introverted. Later, during tests while she was in custody, it was discovered Brenda had an injury to the temporal lobe of her brain, attributed to an accident on her bicycle. However, Brenda Spencer excelled in photography, winning first prize in a Humane Society competition.
After her parents separated, she lived with her father, Wallace Spencer, in virtual poverty. They slept on a single mattress on the living room floor. Police later found half empty alcohol bottles throughout the house. In 2001 Brenda accused her father of having drunkenly subjected her to beatings and sexual abuse. He said the allegations were not true. Spencer is said to have self-identified herself as ” having been gay from birth.”
Criminal Acts of Brenda Spencer
In early 1978, staff at a facility for problem pupils, which Brenda had been referred to due to truancy, informed her parents that she was suicidal. That summer Brenda Spencer was arrested for shooting out the windows of the Cleveland Elementary with a BB gun. She was also arrested for burglary. In December that same year, a psychiatric evaluation arranged by her probation officer recommended Spencer be admitted to a mental hospital due to her depressed state, but her father refused to give permission.
For Christmas in 1978 Brenda Spence’s father gave her a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a telescopic sight and 500 rounds of ammunition. 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.”
On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, Brenda Spencer began shooting from her home at children who were waiting outside Cleveland Elementary School for principal Burton Wragg to open the gates. She injured eight children and Burton Wragg, who was trying to help the kids, was shot and killed. Custodian Mike Suchar was killed as well while trying to pull Wragg to safety. A police officer responding to a call for assistance during the incident was shot in the neck as he arrived.
After firing thirty rounds of ammunition, Brenda Spencer barricaded herself inside her home for nearly seven hours. While there, she spoke with police negotiators, telling them those she had shot made easy targets, and that she was going to “come out shooting.” Ultimately, she surrendered. Police officers found beer and whiskey bottles cluttered around the house, but said Brenda Spencer did not appear to be intoxicated at the time of her arrest.
Brenda Spencer was cited as the inspiration for the song “I Don’t Like Mondays,” written by Bob Geldof for his band the Boomtown Rats.
The Imprisonment of Brenda Spencer
Brenda Spencer was tried as an adult and pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life in prison. While in prison Spencer was diagnosed as an epileptic. She has received medication to treat epilepsy and depression while at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.
Under the terms of her indeterminate sentence, in 1993 Spencer became eligible for hearings to consider her suitability for parole. She has been unsuccessful at four Board of Parole Hearings. In practice, very few of those convicted of any murder obtained parole in California before 2011.
At her first Board of Parole Hearing Spencer said she had been a user of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crime, and that the tests showing she did not have drugs in her system when taken into custody must have been falsified. At a hearing in 2001, Spencer said her father had beat and sexually abused her. The parole board chairman said that, as she had not previously told any prison staff about the allegations, he doubted whether they were true.
In 2009 the parole board ruled Brenda Spencer would be denied parole, and would not be considered for the next 10 years. She became eligible to have a Board of Parole Hearing in 2019. As of November Brenda remains behind bars.