The McDonald's Massacre



On July 18, 1984 the United States would see the worse mass shooting to date. It would retain this status until 1991 when a man walked into a Luby's restaurant and kill twenty-three people (two more than at the McDonald's). I am going be honest and say that the Luby's shooting is on my list and I have not researched it to any real extent at this point. In fact, I believe I have done only a few mass shootings here on my blog at this point. They are usually open and shut cases in the perspective as to who was responsible and more often than not the perpetrator is killed at the scene either by their own hands or by someone else. When that occurs it leaves so many open questions most of the time as to the motive of the crime. When there is is a work place rampage the answers are generally in plain sight. It is in cases such as this that the answers are not so clear and the only person that has those answers can no longer speak.

It was on that day in July that James Huberty walked into the McDonald's in San Ysidro, California, an area in northern San Diego, armed with three guns and by all accounts simply began firing. He would be armed with a 9mm Uzi semi-automatic handgun, a 12 gauge pump action rifle and a 9 mm Browning pistol. The shooting would go on for over an hour and when it was over twenty one people (twenty at the scene, one later at the hospital), between the ages of 8 months and 74 years old had died. Nineteen others were injured.

James Huberty had only lived in the area for about six months with his wife and their two daughters, ages ten and twelve at the time. In fact, the Huberty family did not live but a few hundred yards from the McDonald's and yet Huberty drove his car there. Thirty years later his daughter would say that she had actually been able to see the shooting from the window of her apartment.

Law enforcement had surrounded the building and eventually a sniper from the SWAT team would be given a clear shot. After 77 minutes and over 250 bullets fired by Huberty, he was killed at the scene.

James Huberty had lived in Ohio most of his life. He had been born there in 1942. Sometime in the early 1950's his mother had abandoned the family and had become a missionary of some sort. Many people believe this is when James' problems began and that he never got over the abandonment of his mother. There was a time in which he worked in a funeral home but most of then he worked over a decade as welder at a company in Ohio. In early 1984 Huberty would lose his job at the company seemingly due to layoff's or the closing of the company. Many of his co-workers and neighbors described him as a quiet loner, but also as a violent man. Some would later say that he often talk about shooting someone and upon losing his job he blamed the government and claimed President Reagan was ruining the country.

Huberty had married his wife, Etna in 1965 but judging by their daughters ages it was several years before the children were born. However, it was reported that the couple both seemed to have violent tendencies. It was said that at one point Etna had taken her daughter to a neighboring girl's birthday party and while there Etna encouraged her daughter to assault another girl. When the other girls' mother intervened, Etna pulled a 9 mm pistol on her. Etna was arrested but her gun was not seized. I am unsure it would matter though because it appears that the family had several guns throughout time. The police in Ohio knew the Huberty's well it seemed but aside from this arrest of Etna, that seemingly nothing came from, there was very little as far as actual criminal activity. The police were often called by the Huberty's against other people and neighbors often called the police on the but it was for things such as barking dogs that the Huberty's allowed to roam the area or other minor incidents.

After losing his welding job and being disgruntled about the government, the Huberty's packed up and temporarily went to Mexico to live. Soon after they moved to San Ysidro. James began working as a security guard but not long before the shooting he had been fired. Some say it had been two weeks prior while some say it could have been as little as two days.

It was later reported that the day prior to the shooting James had called a mental health center because he complained of having issues. It is unclear as to what exactly he told the center, who stated his call would be returned. It has been widely reported that receptionist had misspelled his name on the message but apparently he believed he would receive a call back shortly and according to his wife he sat by the phone the rest of the day. According to the center Huberty had made no comments or indication that this was an emergency basis and in those cases a return call could take up to 48 hours. I have personally dealt with the mental health system in current times and for the last decade plus and have found that not all places do return calls, nor do people always express the seriousness of their case. Of course there are some who would argue that if someone takes the steps to call a mental health facility then there's obviously a problem that should be looked into immediately, but in fairness that is not always feasible, not to mention we are talking about a time of more than 30 years prior to now. At any rate, the following day the Huberty's took their daughters to the zoo, went to eat at a McDonald's (not the one he would later enter) and returned home.

He would leave later in the day apparently with his guns. Etna would later say that earlier in the morning James had said “society had their chance.” She would claim she asked him where he was going when he later left and his response was “to hunt humans.” Etna did not call the police or report this. However, upon leaving his house with the weapons someone else saw him and did call the police. It was said that the dispatcher gave the responding officers the wrong address hence they were not in the area of the shooting sooner.

Witnesses would claim that Huberty began shooting as he was walking into the McDonald's. Three eleven year old boys were shot outside the building, two would die while the other “played dead” for over an hour while he laid injured.

When it was all over it seems that McDonald's cleaned up the building and planned to re-open as usual but several protested. In September McDonald's would decide to tear down the building and donate the land to the city. They would in turn build an education center. In the front of the building twenty-one hexagonal pillars ranging from one to six feet were place in remembrance of the twenty-one people murdered that day by James Huberty.

People wanted answers as to why this had happened. There would be much made that a majority of the victims were of Mexican decent but the problem with making that assumption and equating that Huberty had an issue with the Mexican culture or residents fall flat. Reality is that a large majority of the residents in the area were of Mexican decent so it would be reasonable to assume that they would be the people inside the restaurant. An autopsy was done on Huberty but the only thing that was really found was he had a high level of metal in his body, but the fact that he was a welder for over a decade makes those findings common. There were apparent calls to have his brain more closely examined but it appears that the medical examiner disagreed. In my personal opinion I believe the brain could have answered some questions. In the case of Charles Whitman, the man who got on the Texas University Tower and shot several people he had written a note asking that his brain be examined because he thought something was wrong. A tumor was found. I also personally know of a case in which a seemingly docile and nice man started to have behavior changes that in the end had him murdering his wife and daughter, with plans to kill two more daughters. He committed suicide and upon an examination he too was found to have a brain tumor.

I am going to be honest here and say that not a lot of what I found on James' wife Etna had me throwing much sympathy her way but I am unsure how fair that was to her. She obviously was not the one who went into the McDonald's and opened fire. But, considering at least a few past acts and the fact that she did nothing when her husband said he was going to “hunt humans” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. What she did two years after the shooting did not help either. She would file a suit against McDonald's, as well as James' former welding company claiming that the combination of “poisoned” metals and McDonald's food had caused him to commit his rampage. The case was obviously unsuccessful.

Family members of the victims also filed a suit against McDonald's but the courts ruled in McDonald's favor saying they had no reasonable idea that someone would come in and do what James Huberty did. They have a duty to keep their customer's safe under things they can control, which are plenty. They do not have a duty to protect everyone who walks into their restaurants from every imaginable danger.


Soon after the shooting Etna would move her children to another nearby California town where they would enroll in school under assumed names. Etna would die in 2003.  

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