Brenda Ann Spencer was just 16 years old when she uttered the famous line “I don’t like Mondays” these words later became the chorus line to the Boomtown rats hit of the same name and chillingly they were the words said to a reporter after she had opened fire on Grover Cleveland Elementary school.
Spencer was born on 3rd April 1962 and lived in the San Diego, California in the San Carlos neighbourhood, her house was just across the street from Grover Cleveland Elementary. Her parents split when she was a child and she went to live with her father Wallace Spencer, it was said they lived in poverty, sleeping on a single mattress on the living room floor with empty alcohol bottles strewn around the house.
After the shooting acquaintances of Spencer’s said she had expressed hostility toward law enforcement and talked about shooting one or doing something big to get on television. While in her teens Spencer had exceptional talent as a photographer winning first prize in a competition run by the Humane society. She attended Patrick Henry High School but was said to have been uninterested in her school work with one teacher recalling that they had to frequently ask Spencer if she was awake in class. Medical examination when she was incarcerated showed that Spencer had an injury to the temporal lobe of her brain caused by a bicycle accident. Spencer was referred to a facility for “problem students” in early 1978 for truancy, the staff at the facility informed her parents that she was expressing that she was suicidal. Spencer had her first brush with the law that summer, she was known to shoot birds in the neighbourhood, but she was arrested for shooting out the windows of Cleveland Elementary School with a BB gun and for burglary. While on probation her probation officer recommended that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation in the December of 1978, she was admitted to a mental hospital for depression, but was later released when her father wouldn’t give his permission. That Christmas in 1978 her father bought her a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic it was a .22 calibre rifle with a telescopic sight, it also had 500 rounds of ammunition. When asked about this years later Spencer said “I asked for a radio and he bought me a gun” she was then asked why she thought he might have bought her the gun and she answered “I felt like he wanted me to kill myself”.
On 29th January 1979 when the children of Grover Cleveland Elementary started to line up waiting for 53-year-old Burton Wragg to open the gates Spencer opened fire, she injured 8 children and 28-year-old police officer Robert Robb in her spree and killed Principal Wragg and school custodian 56-year-old Mike Suchar, both died protecting the children.
Principal Wragg was the first hit, he was shot in the shoulder, chest and leg, he later died in hospital from his injuries, while Wragg was on the floor bleeding from his injuries school custodian Michael Suchar went to his aid and covered him with blankets to prevent shock, Suchar was shot once while doing this and died quickly.
Next hit was 9-year-old Cam Miller, he was hit in the back and the bullet exited his chest luckily avoiding the internal organs, it is said that Spencer chose Cam because he was wearing a blue coat and she liked the colour blue. The next child hit was Christy Buell, she was shot through her abdomen and buttocks leaving her needing to undergo surgery to repair her intestines. After reports of shots fired 28-year-old police officer Robert Robb went to examine bodies on the school yard when Spencer started firing again, she hit Robb in his right shoulder blade, but survived the shooting.
Spencer fired 30 times then barricaded herself into her home for several hours, she spoke to a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune on the phone while she was barricaded in and that’s when she gave “I don’t like Mondays” and “it’s a good way to liven up the day” as her reasons for the shooting, she went on to tell responding police officers that the kids and adults she had shot were “easy targets” and that she was planning to “come out shooting” these statements have been brought up numerous times at parole hearings as reasons to not release her. Spencer did eventually surrender, and officers reported that when the entered the property they found whiskey and beers bottles strewn around, but Spencer herself did not appear to be intoxicated when she was arrested.
Spencer was tried as an adult and she pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Her trial closed on 4th April 1980, the day after her eighteenth birthday an she was handed a sentence of 25 to life. While she was in prison Spencer was diagnosed as epileptic and received medication to treat this condition and her depression, she is currently still incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Chino, and over the years she’s worked repairing electrical equipment around the prison.
Spencer became eligible for parole in 1993 due to the terms of her indeterminate sentence and normally criminals convicted of murder are very rarely able to obtain parole in California before 2011, making her case very rare back then, this was probably a factor in her the rejection of her parole along with the infamy of her crimes, as of December 2015 she had been rejected four times, in the first meeting she told the board that she had been using drugs and alcohol at the time and hoped the police would shoot her, but this contradicts the results of drug tests taken at the time of arrest that show she was sober. In 2001 she went for a second hearing and claimed that her father had been subjecting her to beatings and sexual abuse, but he denies these allegations, the parole board did also note that she had not previously mentioned abuse to any of the staff at the prison, so they questioned whether the allegations were true or not. In 2005 the time for the third hearing came, but a San Diego deputy district attorney cited an incident of self-harm from four years before, the injuries were in relation to Spencer’s girlfriend being released without her, this showed that she was psychotic and unfit to be released, the self-harm was reported as scratching words like “courage” and “pride into her own skin, Spencer however corrected these reports in her parole hearing saying that the words were “runes” “unforgiven” and “alone”. In 2009 the fourth hearing was called, and her application was again denied, this time Spencer would have to wait 10 years before she could apply for parole again. This means that she will be eligible in 2019 to apply again, will she be successful in her 5th attempt? Or should she stay in prison for her life sentence?
Spencer seemed cold and almost smug when she spoke to reporters and police during the stand-off, but I think that was a way for her to seem less vulnerable and more dangerous, so the police would shoot her. She suffers from depression severely it’s clear, but I believe she suffers from schizophrenia as well due to the injury she sustained, temporal lobe damage has been linked to schizophrenia due to auditory issues that are associated with the damage, it can cause the perception of external voices in the form of auditory hallucinations, she could have been suffering from auditory hallucinations at the time of the shooting, these types of hallucinations are intensified by traumas such as the abuse Spencer claims to have suffered, I think this because she shot Principal Wragg first, at the time the children were lined up and waiting like sitting targets, but she chose to hit Wragg first this could indicate that Spencer was using Wragg as a surrogate for her own father as he would have been seen as a caregiver/ father figure within the school, in her head she was killing her father by shooting Wragg and then shot Suchar because she was helping him and that would have gone against her current mental need. This also extends to the fact she shot children, she could have been shooting the children as a way to kill surrogates for herself when the abuse from her father started or when her life changed from drastically from her parents split up, this is strengthened by the fact she was 16 and shot an elementary school most shooters her age would attack their own high school, as well as the fact she had been previously arrested for vandalism at the school showed she had some mental connection to the school or to being the age she was when she would have attended the school.
The biggest fact in this case that people often focus on is that Spencer’s father bought her a gun for Christmas when she didn’t want it, had previously displayed suicidal ideation and had been arrested for using a BB gun, that is a strange thing for any parent to do even when the circumstances are different. When he father bought her that gun he reinforced to Spencer the idea that life has no value, she was already shooting birds and being allowed to by her father, so when he bought her a gun capable of shooting a person that’s all she saw and that’s why she believed her father gave her the gun to try encourage her to kill herself because she already saw life as something with very little value, this was definitely the final straw that drove the rage she had for her father and the hate she had for herself and life to make her snap and shoot innocent children and civilians.