July 24, 2009
(CNN) — When James Huberty walked into a McDonald’s restaurant 25 years ago this month, he knew he was going to kill somebody. He probably didn’t know his murderous rampage would change how police departments work.
At 3:40 p.m. on July 18, 1984, Huberty carried a long-barreled Uzi semiautomatic rifle, a pump-action shotgun and a handgun into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, an enclave of San Diego, California.
Witnesses said the unemployed welder and security guard started shooting immediately, and kept on shooting for 77 minutes until a police sniper on a nearby rooftop ended the siege with a bullet through Huberty’s heart.
When the carnage ended, Huberty and 21 victims — including grandmothers, an infant, children on bicycles and teenage McDonald’s employees — lay dead inside and outside the restaurant. Nineteen others were wounded.
San Diego police Capt. Miguel Rosario, a patrol officer back then, was the first cop on the scene, believing he was responding to a single accidental shooting.
Carrying a standard-issue .38-caliber revolver with six bullets, the Marine Corps veteran was in for the fight of his life against a much-better-armed opponent.
“Talk about feeling inadequate,” Rosario said. “He’s got an Uzi, I’ve got a .38, and I’m thinking it’s a robbery gone bad and his buddies are going to encircle me.”
Rosario would later play a key role in beefing up officers’ weaponry and training to stop violent criminals.
When Rosario arrived at the McDonald’s, he saw people hiding behind cars in the lot. He didn’t know what was going on, but “I got that little sick feeling in the pit of my stomach,” he said.
He looked up to see a man — Huberty — open a side door of the restaurant, the Uzi across his chest. The two men eyed each other, and then Huberty moved aggressively. The SWAT-trained officer ducked behind a parked pickup truck, “and he started opening up on me,” Rosario said.
He was badly outgunned and knew it. Worse, he believed he had more than one adversary.
“I wouldn’t have minded taking him on one-on-one,” Rosario said in his transplanted South Bronx accent. “But if he had buddies in there and they had shoulder arms, I would have been in a world of hurt.”
Huberty fired about 30 armor-piercing rounds at the officer, who could hear them striking metal posts and skipping off the asphalt.
From behind the truck, Rosario radioed in a Code 10 — “send SWAT” — and seconds later a Code 11 — “send everybody.”
San Diego’s SWAT team then consisted of patrol officers with extra training who carried their special equipment in their squad cars, Rosario said.
Huberty retreated inside as other police units arrived. Rosario ran back to his car to retrieve his Ruger Mini-14 military-style rifle. Two patrol officers fired shotguns to cover Rosario while he took up position. But he couldn’t get a clear shot.
Reporter Monica Zech had a bird’s-eye view of the scene. She was giving traffic reports from a small airplane for local TV and radio stations.
“I looked down and could see that there was people ducking for cover, and there was a fire truck there with everybody behind it,” she recalled. She saw two boys lying on the ground, tangled in their bicycles after being shot by Huberty, and people hiding behind the low walls of the restaurant’s playground. Circling at 3,000 feet, Zech alerted authorities to close nearby Interstate 5 and the Tijuana border crossing a few blocks away because drivers were heading straight into the line of fire.
The bright sunshine and the eatery’s smoked windows made it hard for police to see inside, but eventually Chuck Foster, a police sniper on the post office roof next door, got a clear view of Huberty near the counter. Foster dropped him with a single shot through a glass door.
The battle was over, but the lessons were just beginning.
Police clearly needed more firepower and a new strategy, Rosario said.
“The time had come where you had to have a full-time, committed and dedicated, highly trained, well-equipped team … that were committed to shooting, being in shape and being able to respond rapidly anywhere in the city,” he said.
“We didn’t have what we have now,” Rosario said. “We have a special response team — hostage rescue — very elite, well-trained. It’s an elite team within SWAT. We have access to helicopters now and all of that kind of stuff. We didn’t have none of that back then.”
After San Ysidro, the department created a dedicated unit that trains continuously and uses much more formidable weapons and tactics.
“We became pretty much special forces specialists, if you will,” he said.
Police departments nationwide soon realized their own need for tactical specialists.
The San Ysidro massacre seemed to introduce a “cluster” of mass shootings in the ’80s and early ’90s, said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University professor and author of six books on mass murder. These included post office rampages in Oklahoma, New Jersey and Michigan, and culminated with the Luby’s restaurant slaughter in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, in which 23 people were killed.
Michael T. Rayburn, an independent police firearms trainer in Saratoga Springs, New York, said the San Ysidro incident and others — including gangland battles of the 1920s and more recent episodes like the infamous North Hollywood bank shootout in 1997 and the Columbine school massacre in 1999 — force police to keep developing new weapons and tactics.
“As police officers, we don’t have wind tunnels or expensive laboratories. We’ve learned, unfortunately, out on the street, and we pay for it in blood and sometimes our lives,” he said.
After the McDonald’s massacre, other cities sought advice from San Diego on how to develop tactical teams. Now, such elite units are part of most larger departments across the country.
Another change after San Ysidro is how departments handle officers who have been involved in traumatic incidents. For the first time, San Diego debriefed all involved officers and provided professional counseling for those who needed it. Now, it is common practice.
“We saw the benefit and the need for that,” Rosario said, though in 1984 he blew off steam in Las Vegas for two days in lieu of counseling.
Many departments still fall short, but awareness of the need for psychological services is much greater now than in the ’80s, said Lynn Winstead Mabe, a police counselor and consultant in Grapevine, Texas.
“I truly think they’re beginning to care about the psyche of their people,” she said.
Added: July 24, 2009
Source: North County Times
July 17, 2004
SAN DIEGO — In the summer of 1984, a celebratory California was in the headlines. In San Francisco, the Democratic National Convention was under way. In Los Angeles, organizers were making last minute preparations for the Olympics.
Then on the afternoon of July 18, the small San Diego community of San Ysidro grabbed the spotlight for a very different reason.
On that day 20 years ago, an unemployed security guard, James Oliver Huberty, walked into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and began shooting. Armed with three guns, he killed 21 people, including five children and six teenagers, and wounded 19 before he was shot and killed by a police sniper.
At the time, his 77-minute rampage was the largest single-day, single-gunman massacre in U.S. history.
The shooting left gaps in families and shocked a nation that hadn’t seen such violence on a large scale. The day changed how police respond to tragedy and awakened officers to the possibility of mass murder.
“It was new then, as flying an airplane into the World Trade Center was new in 2001,” said Chuck Foster, the police sniper who ultimately ended the rampage. “All of the responders — the police officers, the firefighters, the paramedics — weren’t foreseeing the scope of this killing spree.”
It had been almost two decades since the nation had seen anything comparable — the 1966 shooting spree from atop a tower at the University of Texas in Austin, when architecture student Charles Joseph Whitman killed 14 and wounded 31.
Huberty’s rampage at San Ysidro convulsed the country. Politicians used the incident to lobby for stricter gun laws. Mental health experts and citizens wanted to know why Huberty’s call to a nearby clinic wasn’t returned. Others asked why his wife Etna did nothing when her husband left the house saying he was going “hunting humans.”
Etna Huberty, who died last year, said such outbursts were not unusual and blamed her husband’s violent streak on a troubled childhood.
The massacre also led to changes in police tactics, with officers reconsidering training practices that had them use force only as a last resort. New practices of providing mental health response teams evolved.
San Diego Police Officer Miguel Rosario, the first on the scene, remembers having to cope with the aftermath.
“I had to work the next day. I drove around in a very numb state,” he said. While counseling was available, no one advised Rosario to take time off.
“It wasn’t that the department was insensitive. It was that we just didn’t know,” he said.
After the incident, San Diego formed a full-time SWAT Team. Psychologists who counseled the survivors, victims’ families and police became recognized as experts in the field. And when another gunman fatally shot 23 at a restaurant in Killeen, Texas in 1991, San Diego’s counseling team was called.
In the years since Huberty’s rampage, his gruesome death total has been surpassed, but people who study homicide say there is something lasting and shocking about the McDonald’s massacre.
“I think a lot of it had to do not with the victim count but with the location, that it was a McDonald’s. Everyone has a McDonald’s in their town; they connected with it,” said James Alan Fox, a professor at criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston who studies mass murders.
In the weeks after the tragedy, thousands of sightseers drove by the restaurant to gawk before McDonald’s razed the building. Survivors and relatives of the victims received letters from around the country. After a lengthy debate about what to do with the site, a community college was built, along with a memorial of white marble blocks to honor the victims. Two blocks away is a new McDonald’s, which opened in 1985.
On the massacre’s 20th anniversary, people affected by the tragedy say the memories are still difficult.
“Slowly we have understood and accepted, but we have not forgotten anything that happened,” said Adelina Hernandez, whose 11-year-old son, Omar, was killed along with his friend David.
Hernandez and Maria Flores, David’s mother, became close. Each tried to understand the incident in her own way. Adelina, 73, has worked at an elementary school cafeteria for years, calling it her “daily medicine.” Maria Flores now has two young children, one 15 and another 11. She said she was able to live through the incident through them and her oldest son, Guillermo.
Others also have worked to move past the tragedy. Ken Dickey, a college student who worked at McDonald’s for the summer and survived by hiding in the restaurant’s basement, worked at another McDonald’s before returning to school. Now a high school chemistry teacher he lives in Idaho.
“I go to McDonald’s all the time now, I take my kids there,” he said. But he still hasn’t told his two children, ages 12 and 9, about the tragedy.
In San Ysidro at a memorial service Thursday, a choir sang and readings were offered by students who attend the college that now fills the site of the massacre alongside Interstate 5. Some things have not changed. The post office where Foster stood to take his shot is still there, as is the Yum Yum doughnut shop where Omar and David had gone to get a snack.
At the police department, the incident comes up most often when police train new officers. And a group of officers who responded are still with the force. Rosario helps hire recruits. The police chief at the time, Bill Kolender, is now the county sheriff. Foster, the former sniper, handles medical benefits.
All agree the day is not forgotten.
“I know the date,” Kolender said. “I remember.”
Added: December 2, 2005
Source: World History
James Oliver Huberty killed 21 people and wounded 19 others at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California. Huberty’s shooting rampage took place on July 18 ,1984. His victims included Omar Hernendez, David Flores, Matao Herrera, Carlos Reyes, Claudia Perez, Blythe Herrera, Victor Rivera, Jackie Wright Reyes, and a friendly truck driver stopping for coffee on his retirement day.