On This Day

mcdonald's massacre, huberty mcdonald's
Lenny Ignelzi/AP
A police officer leads a bloodied woman
away from the scene of the
shooting rampage.

On This Day: 21 Killed in McDonald’s Massacre

July 18, 2011 05:00 AM
by Erin Harris
On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty entered a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California and, with no apparent motive, embarked on a shooting spree that killed 21 people.

“I'm Going Hunting. Hunting Humans”

As James Huberty left his home on July 18, he told his wife, “Society had its chance. I'm going hunting. Hunting humans.”

That afternoon, Huberty opened fire in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif., where approximately 30 people were working or eating. He also shot at people outside the restaurant, including children playing in a nearby park.

“The suspect was firing everywhere, at anything that moved, I saw bodies laying outside, adults and children,” said officer Arthur Velasquez.

“All I remember is saying a prayer. I prayed to see my family one more time … before I died,” said Alberto Leos, who was a 17-year-old cook, to the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2004. Leos was shot multiple times, but managed to survive.

Huberty killed 21 people—ranging from 8-months-old to 74-years-old—and wounded 19 others in a 77-minute attack. It was, at the time, the largest single-day, single-gunman massacre ever in the United States, according to The Associated Press.

The rampage was finally ended when a SWAT sniper Chuck Foster shot and killed Huberty. “It was new then, as flying an airplane into the World Trade Center was new in 2001,” Foster told AP in 2004. “All of the responders—the police officers, the firefighters, the paramedics—weren’t foreseeing the scope of this killing spree.”

Key Player: James Huberty

James Huberty, a 41-year old father of two, lived with his wife and children in an apartment not far from the McDonald’s restaurant where he carried the massacre. Huberty had recently moved to San Ysidro from Canton, Ohio, and, according to Crimefan.com, was an “out of work security guard who blamed the Mexicans for his inability to get a job.”

Although police could find no motive for the crime, his autopsy revealed that Huberty, a former welder, had unusually high levels of cadmium in his body. The metal is believed to interfere with the brain’s ability to exhibit self-control, explains Jim Wilson in Popular Mechanics.

Pfeiffer Treatment Center president William J. Walsh said he has seen “similar off-the-scale metal readings in scalp hair samples from the most notorious mass murderers and serial killers.”

In 1986, Huberty’s wife, Etna, unsuccessfully tried to sue her husband’s former employer, Babcock & Wilcox, for $5 million, alleging that metal poisoning from his welding job was to blame for his behavior.

She also filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, charging that chemicals in the McNuggets that James consumed shortly before the incident had caused him uncontrollable delusions. This, too, was unsuccessful.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in San Ysidro

Police officers involved in the incident and residents of San Ysidro exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following the massacre, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Jean Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, established a fund for survivors and victims’ families, which was distributed in 1985 to help pay for burial expenses and counseling.

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