When we think of school shootings, we think of Columbine High School in April 1999. We also might, mistakingly, think that was the first one…
But 20 years before Columbine, on January 29, 1979 at 8:30am, Brenda Spencer opened fire on the elementary school across the street from her house injuring eight children and a police officer. She killed the school principal and custodian.
When Brenda was asked why she did it, she replied, “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
Brenda was born April 3, 1962 to Wallace and Dot Spencer in San Diego, California.
In the Female Killers documentary, I Don’t Like Mondays , Dot describes her daughter as “always happy and a good child. Well behaved. Never had any problems in school.”
When Brenda’s parents divorced, she and her siblings stayed with their father. In her 2001 parole hearing, Brenda would claim, for the first time, that her father sexually molested her almost nightly from the time that she was nine years old until the shooting when she was 16.
When police entered the Spencer residence on the day of the shooting, they found whiskey and beer bottles littering the house and it was later revealed that Brenda and her father shared a mattress on the floor.
The Christmas before the shooting, Brenda asked her father for a radio. Instead, he gave her a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle with a scope and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Brenda had attempted suicide in the past. She would later say that she felt like her dad was equipping her to successfully kill herself.
About a week before the shooting, Brenda told fellow students that she was going to do something the following Monday that was “big” and would get her on TV.
The morning of the shooting, Brenda told her father that she was too sick to go to school. Wallace left the house about 7am and Brenda said she spent the next hour and a half getting drunk and doing drugs. Her toxicology report, however, would show no signs of drugs or alcohol in her system the day of the shooting.
Around 8am, students began to gather at Grover Cleveland Elementary across the street from the Spencer home waiting for principal Burton Wragg to open the front gate.
At 8:30am, Brenda began shooting from a window at the front of her home. The first person struck was Monica Selvig. The 9 year old was shot in the wrist.
Principal Wragg, 53, heard the shots and ran to the group of children. He was killed by a shot to the chest.
The school’s janitor, 56 year old World War II veteran Michael Suchar, rushed to Wragg’s aid and was also killed by Brenda.
A bullet tore through the body of 9 year old Cam Miller missing his heart by just an inch.
Robert Robb, a 28 year old police officer at the scene was shot in the neck. He survived.
Christy Buell, 9, along with at least three other students, was shot in the abdomen.
After 15 minutes and 30 rounds of ammunition, a security guard and police officer risked their lives to park a garbage truck between Brenda’s home and the school, blocking her view.
A reporter for the San Diego Evening Tribune, Gus Stevens, began calling the houses in the neighborhood trying to get information about the shooter. One of the numbers he dialed was that of the Spencer residence. Brenda picked up the phone and reported that the shooter was a 16 year old girl and gave her address. Gus realized he was talking to the gunman and asked a colleague to call the police while he interviewed Brenda.
This phone interview was when Brenda uttered the now infamous line, “I don’t like Mondays…”. She also said that she was shooting for the “fun of it” and that she had shot a “pig” and wanted to shoot some more.
Brenda remained barricaded in her home for the next 6 1/2 hours threatening to “come out shooting.” She eventually surrendered.
Brenda was tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 years to life in the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.
Brenda was first up for parole in 1993. In this hearing, Brenda stated that she hadn’t intended to kill anyone. She claimed she was shooting wildly in an attempt to draw the police to her home. She said that her intention that day was to commit suicide by cop.
At her parole hearing in 2001, she first mentioned her abuse at the hands of her father. During this hearing, Brenda also said that she felt responsible for every school shooting that had happened since that day in 1979. She said, “What if they got the idea from what I did?”
In 2005, it was brought to light that during her stay in prison, Brenda burned or scratched the words “courage” and “pride” into the skin on her chest. She would claim that the message instead said “unforgiven” and “alone” in Runes, a form of writing used before the Latin alphabet. She also claimed that she had a brain injury that had been caused by her father kicking her in the head. She claimed that he had forced her to say that she had injured herself when she wrecked her bike. Brenda said that she needed medication to control the symptoms.
Brenda was denied parole in 2009, but will be eligible again in 2019.
If you would like more information on Brenda Spencer, I recommend the Female Killers documentary, I Don’t Like Mondays, on YouTube.
A video summary of this story: