James Huberty / Mass Murderer / San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre

James Huberty / Mass Murderer

James Huberty
James Huberty

James Huberty

Born: 10-11-1942

San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre

American Mass Murderer

Crime Spree: July 18, 1984

Death: 07-18-1984

On July 18, 1984, twenty one McDonald’s patrons were killed by 41-year-old James Huberty, who walked into the San Ysidro, San Diego, California restaurant and literally opened fire.

And he was not picky about who would be slaughtered. Men, women and children all died at his discretion. Nineteen others were also wounded before a sniper took him out!

Read More on The San Ysidro McDonald Massacre

James Huberty

James Oliver Huberty was born on October 11, 1942 in Canton, Ohio. He was the second of two children born to Earl Vincent Huberty, a quality inspector, and Icle Evalone, a homemaker. Both parents were devoutly religious, the family regular attendees at local United Methodist Churches.

When James was three years old, he contracted polio. To minimize the debility of this ailment, he was required to wear steel-and-leather braces upon both legs. Although James made a progressive recovery from this ailment, he would be afflicted with a mild limp for the remainder of his life.

In 1950, Earl Huberty purchased a 155-acre farm in Mount Eaton. Icle refused to live in a rural location, and refused to even view the property. Shortly thereafter, she abandoned her family to perform sidewalk preaching in Tucson, Arizona. Young James Huberty found his mother’s abandonment emotionally devastating.

James Huberty, a sullen child with few friends, whose primary interest was target practice, was once described as a “queer little boy who practiced incessantly with a target pistol.”

By his teens, James was something of an amateur gunsmith. Due to his limp, his family’s extreme religious beliefs and his reluctance to socialize with his peers, Huberty was frequently targeted by bullies at school. An average student, James graduated 51st out of a class of 77 students from Waynedale High School in 1960.

In 1962, Huberty enrolled at Malone College, where he initially studied sociology, before opting to study at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He graduated with honors in 1964, being issued with a funeral director’s license and, the following year, an embalmer’s license.


In early 1965, James Huberty married Etna Markland, whom he had met while attending Malone College. Shortly after his marriage, Huberty obtained employment at a funeral home in Canton, Ohio. Although proficient at embalming, Huberty’s introverted personality made him ill-suited to dealing with members of the public, causing minor conflicts with his superiors. Nonetheless, James worked in this profession for two years before opting to become a welder for a firm in Louisville, Ohio.

James worked for this firm for two years before securing a better-paying position at Babcock & Wilcox in June of 1969. Although reclusive and taciturn, Huberty’s employers considered him a reliable worker. He willingly took overtime, earned promotions and by the mid-1970s, regularly earned between $25,000 and $30,000 per year. Shortly after Huberty was hired by this firm, he and his wife moved into a three-story home in an affluent section of Massillon, Ohio. However, in the winter of 1971, this home was destroyed in a fire. Shortly thereafter, James and Etna bought another house on the same street. They later built a six-unit apartment building on the grounds of their first home, which they then managed. Daughters Zelia (1972) and Cassandra (1974) were born to them during this time,

Domestic Violence

James Huberty had a history of domestic violence, frequently slapping or punching his daughters, holding knives to their throats, or beating on his wife. On one occasion, Etna filed a report with the Canton Department of Children and Family Services stating that her husband had “messed up” her jaw, although she later insisted on the majority of occasions he had assaulted her, he struck her only once.

Beginning in 1976, Etna repeatedly attempted to persuade her husband to seek counseling to alleviate his sources of stress, although he refused to seek any form of therapy. In personal efforts to pacify her husband’s temper, anxiety, and general paranoia and to both influence and control his behavior, Etna took great efforts to minimize any possibility of agitating her husband. She also gradually developed a mechanism whereby she claimed to be able to read his future by reading playing or tarot cards. And James apparently believed her. Etna’s readings would produce a temporary calming effect and Huberty would typically follow the recommendations his wife made in these readings.

To his neighbors and co-workers, Huberty was perceived as a sullen, ill-tempered and a somewhat paranoid individual, obsessed with firearms and who harbored a mental tally of every setback, insult or general source of frustration, either real or perceived, against himself or his family within his mind.

Occasionally, Huberty would retaliate in response to any real (or perceived) injustice in an effort to settle what he termed “my debts”, and conflicts with his neighbors would once lead to his detainment on charges of disorderly conduct. On one occasion, he is known to have informed the father of two girls, whom he had encouraged his own daughters to fight in response to a conflict between the children, “I believe in paying my debts. Both good and bad.”

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Conspiracy Theorist

A conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed survivalist, James Huberty believed an escalation of the Cold War was inevitable and that president Jimmy Carter and, later, Ronald Reagan and the United States government were conspiring against him. Convinced of an imminent increase in Soviet aggression, Huberty believed that a breakdown of society was fast approaching, perhaps through economic collapse or nuclear war. He committed himself to prepare to survive this perceived collapse and provisioned his house with ample reserve supplies of non-perishable food and numerous guns that he intended to use to defend his home during what he believed was the coming apocalypse. According to one family acquaintance, Huberty’s home was bedecked with loaded firearms to such a degree that wherever Huberty was sitting or standing within his home, he “could just reach over and get a gun.” Each firearm was loaded, with the safety disabled.

Relocation to Tijuana

In November of 1982, James Huberty was laid off from Babcock & Wilcox, causing him to become despondent over his dire financial situation and general inability to provide for his family. One co-worker would later recollect that, upon being notified of the impending closure of this engineering firm, Huberty had made a comment indicating that if he was unable to provide for his family, he intended to commit suicide and “take everyone with him.” According to Etna, shortly after her husband became unemployed, Huberty began hearing voices. In early 1983, he placed a loaded pistol against his temple, threatening to commit suicide. Etna successfully dissuaded her husband from shooting himself, although he later remarked to her: “You should have let me shoot myself.”

Unable to find lasting employment in Ohio, James and Etna Huberty sold their six-unit apartment building for $115,000 in the spring of 1983. Shortly thereafter, Huberty obtained alternate welding employment with Union Metal Manufacturing Company. This employment lasted five weeks before the closure of the plant. Weeks after he became unemployed again, James and one of his daughters were injured in a traffic accident. In the weeks following this accident, Huberty noted an aggravation in neck pains he had endured since childhood. He also noted an occasional, increasing nerve tremor in his hands and arms.

In the summer of 1983, the Hubertys applied for residency in Mexico, believing the money obtained from the sale of their apartment building would financially sustain the family longer in Mexico than in America. Having also sold their main home in September, Huberty informed family acquaintances of his intentions to relocate his family to Tijuana in search of employment opportunities, confidently stating, “We’re going to show them who’s boss.”

When Huberty and his family moved from Ohio to Tijuana, in October of 1983, he left all but the most essential of his family’s possessions in storage in Ohio, but ensured he brought his huge collection of guns, ammunition and survival supplies with him. According to published reports, Huberty’s wife and daughters embraced their new environs and became friendly with their neighbors, although Huberty, who spoke little Spanish, remained sullen and taciturn. Unable to find employment in Tijuana, Huberty quickly regretted his decision to relocate to Mexico. Within three months, the family relocated to San Ysidro, a largely poor district of San Diego just north of the U.S.–Mexico border.

San Ysidro

In San Ysidro, the Hubertys rented an apartment within the Cottonwood Apartments as Huberty sought employment. The fact his family were the only Anglo-Americans within this apartment complex irritated Huberty, who was notably ignorant to his neighbors. Shortly thereafter, James applied to a newspaper advertisement offering security guard training in a federally funded program. He completed this course on April 12 and soon obtained employment with a security firm in Chula Vista, assigned with guarding a condominium complex. The money earned enabled the family to have their furniture shipped from Ohio, and the family relocated to a two-bedroom apartment on Averil Road the same month. 

On July 10, Huberty was summarily dismissed from this job. His employers informed Huberty the reasons for his dismissal were his poor work performance and a noted general physical instability. James again found himself up against it.

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San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre

Blood On The Golden Arches: The Story Of The 1984 McDonald’s Massacre” is the tale of a mass shooting that occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California on July 18, 1984.

At approximately 4 pm, James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old unemployed husband and father of two, walked into the McDonalds restaurant and began a shooting rampage which lasted an hour and 18 minutes.

22 people were killed and 19 others were injured before Huberty was shot and killed by a SWAT sniper who finally got a clear view of his perp and took seriously the order to shoot to kill.

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Society Had It’s Chance

On July 18, 1984, James Huberty took his wife and two little girls to the zoo. During the course of the afternoon James remarked to his wife that his “life was over and that society had had its chance.” After visiting the zoo, James took his family to a local McDonald’s for lunch and then they headed home.

As his wife lay resting on the bed, he entered the room and told her he was “going hunting humans” and said that he wanted to kiss her goodbye. Deciding that he was just trying to rile her, his wife ignored the remark. James told his oldest daughter goodbye as he carried a bundle, wrapped in a checkered blanket, out the front door, adding that “he wouldn’t be back”.

The Madness Begins

James Oliver Huberty left his home and drove down San Ysidro Boulevard. According to eyewitnesses, he drove first toward a Big Bear supermarket and then toward a U.S. Post Office branch, before entering the parking lot of the McDonald’s restaurant, just 200 yards, and completely visible from his Averil Road apartment, on San Ysidro Boulevard. It was approximately 3:56 p.m. on July 18, 1984.

Huberty had in his possession were a 9mm Browning HP semi-automatic pistol, a 9mm Uzi carbine, a Winchester 1200 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, a box and a cloth bag filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for each weapon. He exited his vehicle and the madness was now on its way to the point of no return.

The First To Die

The first of many calls to emergency services was made shortly after 4:00 p.m., notifying police of the shooting of a child who had been taken to a post office on San Ysidro Boulevard. The dispatcher mistakenly directed responding officers to another McDonald’s two miles from the San Ysidro Boulevard restaurant. This error delayed the imposition of a lockdown by several minutes, and the only warnings to civilians walking, riding, or driving toward the restaurant were given by passers-by.

At approximately 4:05 p.m., a Mexican couple, Astolfo and Maricela Félix, drove toward one of the service areas of the restaurant. Noting the shattered laminated glass, Astolfo initially assumed renovation work was in progress and that Huberty, striding toward his car, was a repairman. James Huberty suddenly fired his shotgun and Uzi at the couple and their four-month-old daughter, Karlita, striking Maricela in the face, arms and chest, blinding her in one eye and permanently rendering one hand unusable. Her baby was critically wounded in the neck, chest and abdomen. Astolfo was wounded in the chest and head.

As Astolfo and Maricela staggered away from Huberty’s line of fire, Maricela gave their baby to her husband. Astolfo handed the shrieking child to a young woman named Lucia Velasco as his wife collapsed against a car. Velasco rushed the baby to a nearby hospital as her husband assisted Astolfo and Maricela into a nearby building. All three members of the Félix family survived.

Three 11-year-old boys then rode their bikes into the west parking lot to purchase sundaes. Hearing a member of the public yell something unintelligible from across the street, all three hesitated, before Huberty shot the three boys with his shotgun and Uzi. Joshua Coleman fell to the ground critically wounded in the back, arm, and leg. He later recalled looking toward his two friends, Omarr Alonso Hernandez and David Flores Delgado, noting that Hernandez was on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds to his back and had started vomiting. Delgado had received several gunshot wounds to his head. Coleman survived. Hernandez and Delgado both died at the scene.

Huberty next noticed an elderly couple, 74-year-old Miguel Victoria Ulloa, and 69-year-old Aida Velázquez Victoria, walking toward the entrance. As Miguel reached to open the door for his wife, Huberty fired his shotgun, killing Aida with a gunshot to the face and wounding Miguel. An uninjured survivor, Oscar Mondragon, later reported observing Miguel cradling his wife in his arms and wiping blood from her face, shouting curses at Huberty, who then approached the doorway, swore at Miguel, then killed him with a shot to the head.

Once Inside

Entering the restaurant minutes later, James Oliver Huberty first aimed his shotgun at a 16-year-old employee named John Arnold from a distance of approximately fifteen feet. As he did so, the assistant manager, Guillermo Flores, shouted: “Hey, John, that guy’s going to shoot you!”

According to Arnold, when Huberty pulled the trigger, “nothing happened.” As Huberty inspected his gun, the manager of the restaurant, 22-year-old Neva Caine, walked toward the service counter of the restaurant in the direction of Arnold, who believed the incident to be a distasteful joke and began to walk away from the gunman. Huberty fired his shotgun toward the ceiling before aiming the Uzi at Caine, shooting her in the face. She died minutes later.

Immediately after shooting Caine, Huberty fired his shotgun at Arnold, wounding the teenager in the chest and arm, before shouting a comment to the effect of, “Everybody on the ground.” Huberty then referred to all present in the restaurant as “dirty swine, Vietnam assholes,” before claiming that he had “killed a thousand” and that he intended to “kill a thousand more.” It is believed that he was referring to Vietnam, but he had in fact never actually served in any military branch.

Upon hearing Huberty’s profane rant and seeing Caine and Arnold shot, one customer, 25-year-old Victor Rivera, tried to persuade Huberty not to shoot anyone else. In response, Huberty shot Rivera fourteen times, repeatedly shouting “shut up” as Rivera screamed out in pain and lay dying on the floor.

Huberty then shot and killed a 62-year-old trucker named Laurence Versluis, before targeting a family seated near the play area of the restaurant who had tried to shield their son and his friend beneath the tables with their bodies. Thirty-one-year-old Blythe Regan Herrera had shielded her 11-year-old son, Matao, beneath one booth, as her husband, Ronald, protected Matao’s friend, 12-year-old Keith Thomas, beneath a booth directly across from them. Ronald Herrera urged Thomas not to move, shielding the boy with his body. Thomas was shot in the shoulder, arm, wrist, and left elbow. Ronald was shot six times in the stomach, chest, arm, hip, shoulder, and head but survived. His wife, Blythe, and son, Matao, were both killed by numerous gunshots to the head.

At this point, a few minutes passed 4pm., a young woman named Lydia Flores drove into the parking lot. Stopping at the food-pickup window, Flores noticed shattered windows and the sound of gunfire, before “looking up and there he was, just shooting.” Flores reversed her car until she crashed into a fence; she hid in some bushes with her two-year-old daughter until the shooting ended.

San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre

No Discrimination

As staff and customers scrambled to hide beneath tables and service booths, James Huberty turned his attention toward six women and children huddled together near the floor. He first killed 19-year-old María Colmenero-Silva with a single gunshot to the chest, then fatally shot nine-year-old Claudia Pérez in the stomach, cheek, thigh, hip, leg, chest, back, armpit, and head with his Uzi. He then wounded Pérez’s 15-year-old sister Imelda once in the hand with the same weapon, and fired upon 11-year-old Aurora Peña with his shotgun. Peña, initially wounded in the leg, had been shielded by her pregnant aunt, 18-year-old Jackie Reyes. Huberty shot Reyes 48 times with the Uzi. Beside his mother’s body, eight-month-old Carlos Reyes sat up and cried out loudly, whereupon Huberty shouted at the child, then killed the toddler with a single pistol shot to the center of the back.

Nearby, three women had also attempted to hide beneath a booth. Twenty-four-year-old Guadalupe del Rio lay against a wall, shielded by her friends, 25-year-old Gloria Ramírez, and 31-year-old Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas. Del Rio was hit several times but was not seriously wounded, Ramírez was unhurt, whereas Vargas received a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. She died of her wound the next day, the only person fatally wounded who lived long enough to reach a hospital. At another booth, Huberty killed 45-year-old banker Hugo Velázquez Vasquez with a single shot to the chest.

Help Arrives

Approximately ten minutes after the first call had been placed to emergency services, police arrived at the correct McDonald’s restaurant. The first officer on the scene, Miguel Rosario, rapidly determined the location and cause of the actual disturbance and relayed this information to the San Diego Police Department as Huberty fired on his patrol car. Officers deployed immediately imposed a lockdown on an area spanning six blocks from the site of the shootings. The police established a command post two blocks from the restaurant and deployed 175 officers in numerous strategic locations. These officers were joined within the hour by several SWAT team members, who also took positions around the restaurant.

As Huberty was firing rapidly and alternating between firearms, police initially were unaware how many individuals were inside the restaurant. Furthermore, because most of the restaurant’s windows had been shattered by gunfire, reflections from shards of glass provided an additional difficulty for police focusing inside the restaurant. 

Initially, police were concerned the gunman or gunmen might be holding hostages, although one individual who had escaped from the restaurant informed police there was a single gunman present in the premises, holding no hostages and shooting any individual he encountered. At 5:05 p.m., all responding law enforcement personnel were authorized to shoot to kill.

Several survivors later reported observing Huberty walk toward the service counter and adjust a portable radio, possibly to search for news reports of his shooting spree, before selecting a music station and further shooting individuals as he danced to the music. 

Shortly thereafter, Huberty searched the kitchen area, discovering six employees and shouting: “Oh, there’s more. You’re trying to hide from me!” In response, one of the female employees screamed in Spanish, “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!” before Huberty opened fire, killing 21-year-old Paulina López, 19-year-old Elsa Borboa-Fierro, and 18-year-old Margarita Padilla, and critically wounding 17-year-old Albert Leos. 

Immediately before Huberty had begun shooting, Padilla grabbed the hand of her friend and colleague, 17-year-old Wendy Flanagan, before the two began to run. Padilla was then fatally shot; Flanagan, four other employees and a female customer hid inside a basement utility room. They were later joined by Leos, who had crawled to the utility room after being shot five times.

When a fire truck drove within range, Huberty opened fire and repeatedly pierced the vehicle with bullets, slightly wounding one occupant. Hearing a wounded teenager, 19-year-old Jose Pérez, moaning, Huberty shot him in the head; the boy slumped dead in the booth. Pérez died alongside his friend and neighbor, 22-year-old Gloria González, and a young woman named Michelle Carncross. At one point, Aurora Peña, who had lain wounded beside her dead aunt, baby cousin and two friends, noted a lull in the firing. Opening her eyes, she saw Huberty nearby, staring in her direction. He swore and threw a bag of french fries at Peña, then retrieved his shotgun and shot the child in the arm, neck, and jaw. Aurora Peña survived, although she would remain hospitalized longer than any other survivor.

78 Minutes of Murder

At 5:17 p.m., James Huberty walked from the service counter toward the doorway close to the drive-in window of the restaurant, affording a 27-year-old police SWAT sniper named Charles Foster, deployed to a strategic position on the roof of a post office directly opposite the restaurant, an unobstructed view of his body from the neck down through his telescopic sight. Foster fired a single round from a range of approximately 35 yards. The bullet entered Huberty’s chest, severed his aorta just beneath his heart, and exited through his spine, sending James Huberty sprawling backwards onto the floor directly in front of the service counter, killing him almost instantly.

Read More on The Victims of James Oliver Huberty

Immediately after shooting Huberty, Foster relayed to other responding officers he had killed the perpetrator and that his focus remained on the motionless suspect. Nonetheless, as so many rounds had been expended from different firearms within the restaurant, police were not completely certain the sole perpetrator was deceased. Entering the restaurant approximately one minute later, a police sergeant focused his gun upon Huberty as he noted the movements of a wounded girl. When asked if the deceased male was the suspect, the girl nodded her head.

The San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre was over but the heartache was about to become eternal.

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