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I don't like Mondays. This lightens up the day.
~ Brenda Spencer

Brenda Ann Spencer (April 3rd, 1962) was the 16-year-old teenage girl responsible for the Cleveland Elementary School (San Diego) sniper attack on January 29th, 1979, which left 2 men dead, 8 children and 1 police officer injured. The incident was one of the earliest known school shootings to take place.

Biography

Background

Spencer is said to have self-identified as "having been gay from birth." 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.

Acquaintances said Spencer expressed hostility toward policemen, had spoken about shooting one and had talked of doing something big to get on television. 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.

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. 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. 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."

The shooting

On the day of the attack, Spencer took aim from her house, fatally shot the principal and a custodian, and injuring 8 children, by using her Ruger .22 rifle. After the attacks, she hid for a few hours and had a conservation with a journalist and she said that she did it because she "hates Mondays." She surrendered to police a few hours later.

Aftermath

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. 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.

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. 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, although the results of drug tests done when she was taken into custody were negative. 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.

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. 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. She now has a parole hearing scheduled for August 2019.

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

Trivia

  • The Cleveland Elementary School shooting is believed to be one of the earliest school shootings to gain widespread notoriety.
  • The shooting bears multiple similarities to another school shooting, the University of Texas tower shooting perpetrated by Charles Whitman in August 1966: both were school shootings, both Whitman and Spencer used similar weapons, and both were carried out in a sniper-style fashion.
  • The event served as the basis for the song "I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats.
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