San Ysidro McDonald's massacre

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Not to be confused with the Sydney River McDonald's murders.
San Ysidro McDonald's massacre
San Ysidro - Massacre Site Monument.jpg
Memorial erected on the former site of the restaurant
Location San Diego, California, United States
Date July 18, 1984
c. 3:59 pm - 5:16 pm (PST)
Attack type
Mass shooting, mass murder
Deaths 22 (including perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator James Huberty

Coordinates: 32°33′22″N 117°03′15″W / 32.556119°N 117.054189°W / 32.556119; -117.054189

The San Ysidro McDonald's massacre was a mass shooting that occurred in and around a McDonald's restaurant in the San Diego neighborhood of San Ysidro, California on July 18, 1984. The perpetrator, 41-year-old James Huberty shot and killed 21 people, including five children, and injured 19 others, before being fatally shot by SWAT team sniper Charles Foster.[1]

The "San Ysidro McDonald's massacre" would remain the deadliest mass murder committed in America until the 1991 Luby's shooting,[1] and remains the deadliest shooting rampage in which the perpetrator was killed by police as opposed to suicide.

Prior to the incident[edit]

On July 15, 1984, three days before the shooting, 41-year-old James Oliver Huberty commented to his wife, Etna, that he suspected he may have a mental problem.[1] Two days later, on July 17, Huberty called a mental health clinic, requesting an appointment. Leaving his contact details with the receptionist, he was assured the clinic would return his call within hours. According to his wife, Huberty sat quietly beside the telephone for several hours, awaiting a return call from the mental health clinic, before abruptly walking out of the family home and riding to an unknown destination on his motorcycle. (Unbeknown to Huberty, the receptionist had misspelled his name as Shouberty. Furthermore, his polite demeanor conveyed no sense of immediate urgency to the operator; therefore, the call was logged as a 'non-crisis' inquiry to be handled within 48 hours.)

Approximately one hour later, Huberty returned home in a contented mood.[1] After eating dinner with his family, he, his wife and two daughters (aged 12 and 10) cycled to a nearby park before, in the evening, James and Etna Huberty watched a film together.

The following morning—Wednesday, July 18—Huberty took his wife and daughters to the San Diego Zoo. In the course of the walk, Huberty told his wife his life was effectively over. Referring to the mental health clinic's failure to return his phone call the previous day, he stated, "Well, society had their chance."[1][2][3]

After eating lunch at a McDonald's restaurant in the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, the Hubertys then returned home. Shortly thereafter, James Huberty walked into his bedroom as his wife lay relaxing upon the bed: he leaned toward Etna Huberty and informed her, "I want to kiss you goodbye."[4] After kissing her husband, Etna asked him where he was going, to which he replied he was "going hunting humans".[5]

Carrying a bundle wrapped inside a checkered blanket, Huberty looked towards his elder daughter, Zelia, as he walked towards the front door of the family home and informed her, "Goodbye. I won't be back." Huberty then proceeded to drive down San Ysidro Boulevard towards a McDonald's restaurant located approximately 200 yards from his apartment.[6]

Events of the incident[edit]

At approximately 3:56 p.m. on July 18, James Huberty drove his Mercury Marquis sedan into the parking lot of the McDonald's restaurant on San Ysidro Boulevard. In his possession were a 9mm. Browning semi-automatic pistol, a 9-mm Israeli-made Uzi, a Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, and a cloth bag filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for each weapon.[1] A total of 45 customers were present inside the restaurant.[7]

Entering the restaurant minutes later, Huberty first aimed his shotgun at a 16-year-old employee named John Arnold. As he did so, the assistant manager, Guillermo Flores, shouted, "Hey, John. That guy's gonna shoot you!" According to Arnold, when Huberty pulled the trigger, "nothing happened". As Huberty inspected his gun, the manager of the restaurant, 22-year-old Neva Caine, walked past the service counter of the restaurant in the direction of the entrance as Arnold—believing the incident to be a disgusting joke—began to walk away from the gunman. Huberty then fired his shotgun towards the ceiling, then aimed the Uzi towards Neva Caine, whom he shot once in the face.[1] Caine died minutes later.

Immediately after shooting Caine, Huberty fired his shotgun at John Arnold, wounding the youth in the torso, before shouting a comment to the effect of, "Everybody on the ground!"[1] Huberty then referred to all present in the restaurant as "dirty swines," before shouting that he had killed thousands and that he intended to "kill a thousand more." Upon hearing Huberty's expletive-ridden rants and seeing Neva Caine and John Arnold shot, one customer, 25-year-old Victor Rivera, attempted to persuade Huberty not to shoot anymore. In response, Huberty shot Rivera 14 times; repeatedly shouting "Shut up!" as Rivera screamed in pain.[1]

As most of the customers attempted to hide beneath tables and service booths, Huberty turned his attention towards six women and children who had been walking from the service counter of the restaurant towards the dining area[8] and had huddled together when Huberty had begun shooting. Huberty first shot and killed 18-year-old María Colmenero-Silva with a single gunshot wound to the chest; he then shot and killed 9-year-old Claudia Pérez in the cheek, stomach, chest, thigh, hip, armpit and head[1] with his Uzi, and wounded her 15-year-old sister, Imelda, and an 11-year-old named Aurora Peña with the same weapon. Peña—initially wounded in the leg—had been shielded by her pregnant aunt, 18-year-old Jackie Reyes. In her later accounts of the incident, Peña would state she felt her aunt's body "bucking and jerking" as she (Reyes) was shot 48 times[9] with the Uzi. Beside his mother's body, 8-month-old Carlos Reyes sat upwards and wailed, whereupon Huberty shouted at the child to be silent, then took aim and killed the infant with a single shot to the center of the back.

Huberty then shot and killed a 62-year-old trucker named Laurence Versluis, before targeting one of many families sat close towards the play area of the restaurant, who had attempted to shield their children beneath the tables with their bodies.[1] 31-year-old Blythe Regan Herrera had shielded her 11-year-old son, Matao beneath one booth, with her husband shielding 12-year-old Keith Thomas beneath a booth located directly opposite. Keith Thomas later recalled Blythe Herrera screaming, "He's coming down the aisle shooting everybody"[10] as Huberty began shooting victims sat within the restaurant as he walked towards them. Ronald Herrera urged Thomas not to move as he shielded the boy from Huberty's gunfire with his own body. Thomas was shot twice in the shoulder and arms, but was not seriously wounded; Ronald Herrera was shot eight times in the stomach, arm, hip, shoulder and head, but survived; his wife, Blythe, and son, Matao, had both been killed by numerous gunshots to the head.[11]

Close to where the Herrera family and Keith Thomas had hidden, two women named Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas and Guadalupe del Rio had also attempted to escape Huberty's gunfire by hiding beneath a booth. Guadalupe del Rio, 24, had pressed herself beneath a booth and against a wall; she had been shielded by her friend, 31-year-old Arisdelsi Vuelvas Vargas. Del Rio was hit several times but was not seriously wounded, whereas Vargas had received a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. She would die of her wound the next day—the only person fatally wounded by Huberty who lived long enough to reach a hospital. At another booth, Huberty killed a 45-year-old banker named Hugo Velazquez Vasquez with a single gunshot to the chest.[1]

Killed inside restaurant
Killed outside restaurant
Wounded and injured

The first of many calls to the emergency services was made at 4:00 p.m., although the dispatcher instructed responding officers to travel to another McDonald's 3 kilometers from the San Ysidro Boulevard restaurant.[13] Within ten minutes, the police had arrived at the correct restaurant. Immediately, a lockdown was imposed on an area spanning six blocks from the site of the shootings.[13] The police also established a command post located two blocks from the restaurant, and deployed 175 officers in strategic locations. (These officers would be joined by SWAT team members within the hour, who also deployed themselves in strategic locations surrounding the McDonald's restaurant.)

Shortly after the first 911 call had been made, a young woman named Lydia Flores drove into the parking lot. Stopping at the food pickup window, Flores noted shattered windows and the sound of gunfire,[1] before "looking up and there he was, just shooting." Flores reversed her car until she crashed into a fence; she hid with her two-year-old daughter until the shooting ended.

Three 11-year-old boys then rode their bikes into the west parking lot to purchase soft drinks.[14] Hearing a member of the public yell something unintelligible from across the street,[1] all three stopped their bikes and hesitated, before Huberty shot all three boys with his shotgun and Uzi. Joshua Coleman fell to the ground with wounds to his stomach, buttocks, hands and arms; he later recalled looking towards his two friends as he lay on the floor, noting that Hernández had fallen to the ground and begun vomiting, whereas Delgado "fell back and blood started coming out of his head and his eyes rolled back."[15] Coleman survived; both Hernández and Delgado had each received fatal shots to the head and body.

Almost immediately after shooting the three boys and unsuccessfully attempting to focus his weapons upon Lylia Flores and her daughter, Huberty noted an elderly couple named Miguel and Aida Victoria walking towards the entrance. As Miguel reached to open the door for his wife,[16] Huberty fired his shotgun, killing Aida with a wound to the face, and injuring Miguel with buckshot. One uninjured survivor, Oscar Mondragon, later reported he had seen Miguel cradling his wife in his arms as he repeatedly wiped blood from her face. As Victoria shouted curses at Huberty, he (Huberty) walked towards the entrance and yelled angrily at the old man before killing him with a single shotgun wound to the head.[13]

At approximately 4:10 p.m., a Mexican couple named Astolfo and Maricela Felix drove towards one of the service areas of the restaurant. Noting the shattered glass, Astolfo initially deduced renovation work was in progress and that Huberty—striding towards the car—was a repairman. (Astolfo and Maricela Felix did not speak English.) Huberty fired his shotgun at the couple and their 4-month-old daughter, Karlita,[1] striking Maricela in the head, arms and chest, blinding her in one eye and permanently rendering one hand unusable.[17] Her baby was critically wounded in the head, chest and abdomen.[18] Astolfo himself was wounded in the chest and neck. As Astolfo and Maricela staggered away from Huberty's line of fire, Maricela passed her shrieking child into the arms of a fleeing woman and shouted in Spanish, "Please save my baby" before she (Maricela) slumped against a parked car. The woman to whom Maricela had handed her child rushed the baby to a nearby hospital as her husband assisted Astolfo and Maricela into a nearby building. (All three Felixes survived.)

Several survivors later harked to having observed Huberty calmly walk towards the service counter and adjust the frequency of a portable radio, possibly to search for news reports as to his actions,[9] before selecting an unknown music station and continuing shooting. Shortly thereafter, on impulse, Huberty vaulted the service counter to search the kitchen area, where he discovered six employees who had taken refuge.[1] Upon seeing these employees, Huberty calmly stated, "Oh, there's more!" before shouting as he raised the Uzi: "You're trying to hide from me!" as two employees successfully ran towards emergency exits. One of the female employees huddled in this location screamed in Spanish, "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"[1] before Huberty opened fire, killing 21-year-old Paulina López, 19-year-old Elsa Borboa-Firro and 18-year-old Margarita Padilla and wounding 17-year-old Albert Leos.

Inside the dining area of the restaurant, Huberty was not in the least cowed by the presence of emergency services around the restaurant. When a fire engine drove within range, Huberty repeatedly pierced the vehicle with bullets, but did not wound any occupants. One wounded teenager—19-year-old Jose Pérez—had begun moaning,[1] whereupon Huberty fatally shot the youth. At one point, Aurora Peña, who had lain wounded beside her dead aunt, baby cousin, and two friends, noted a lull in firing. Opening her eyes, Peña saw Huberty standing only feet away from her and staring in her direction.[1] Noting Peña was still alive, Huberty threw a bag of french fries at her before shooting the girl in the head, neck and arm. (Peña would survive her injuries.)

Occasionally, Huberty would blurt justifications for his murdering his victims as he shot his victims; other outbursts would hark to his actions instigating his own suicide.[1] As had been the case with Aurora Peña, on occasion, Huberty would throw fast food at his victims before shooting them.

Police intervention and end of shooting[edit]

One of several SWAT team officers deployed was a 27-year-old SWAT team sniper named Charles Foster, who had been positioned on the roof of a post office overlooking the restaurant.[19][20] Foster was authorized to kill Huberty should he have a clear shot.[1] At 5:17 p.m., Foster obtained an unobstructed view of Huberty from the neck down; he fired a single round, which severed Huberty's aorta and exited through his spine.[1]

The incident had lasted for 78 minutes, during which time Huberty had fired 257 rounds of ammunition, killing 20 people and wounded 20 others—one fatally. 17 of the victims had been killed inside the restaurant, with four additional victims killed in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant. Several victims had attempted to staunch their wounds with napkins—often in vain.[9]

Of the fatalities, 13 died from gunshot wounds to the head, 7 from gunshots to the chest, and one victim, 8-month-old Carlos Reyes, from a single 9mm. gunshot to the back.[21]

The victims, whose ages ranged from 8 months to 74 years, were predominantly, though not exclusively, of Mexican or Mexican-American heritage.

Although Huberty had stated during the shooting that he had killed thousands in Vietnam, he had never actually served in any military branch. Eyewitnesses stated that he had previously been seen at the Big Bear supermarket and later at the U.S. Post Office; it is believed that he found the McDonald's to be a better target.


Close-up of a monument dedicated to the victims.

Due to the number of victims, local funeral homes had to use the San Ysidro Civic Center to hold all the wakes. The local parish, Mount Carmel Church, resorted to holding back-to-back funeral masses to accommodate all the dead.

After razing the building at the site of the shooting, McDonald's built another restaurant nearby[20] and gave the former property to the city, which established the Education Center on the site as part of Southwestern Community College. This location was built in 1988 as an expansion of its off-campus locations. In front of the school is a memorial to the victims, designed by Roberto Valdes, consisting of 21 hexagonal white marble pillars ranging in height from one to six feet and each bearing the name of one of the victims.[22] Valdes, a former student at Southwestern, said of the sculpture "The 21 hexagons represent each person that died, and they are different heights, representing the variety of ages and races of the people involved in the massacre. They are bonded together in the hopes that the community, in a tragedy like this, will stick together, like they did."[22] Every anniversary, the monument is decorated with flowers and on the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, candles and offerings are brought on behalf of the victims.[23] The location of the monument and the former McDonald's is at 460 West San Ysidro Boulevard.[20]

In response to the incident, the city of San Diego increased training for special units, and purchased more powerful firearms to counteract future situations.[19] The San Ysidro incident also led police departments across the United States to provide their officers with higher power firearms and training for stopping violent criminals and protecting those around them.[19]

The families of the deceased victims along with the surviving victims together tried (unsuccessfully) to sue the McDonald's Corporation and the local franchisee. The cases were in San Diego Superior Court and were consolidated. The court ultimately dismissed before trial on defendants' motion for summary judgment, but the plaintiffs appealed. On July 25, 1987, the California Court of Appeal (Fourth District, Division One) affirmed summary judgment for the defendants because (1) McDonald's or any other business has no duty of care to protect patrons from an unforeseeable assault by a murderous madman; and (2) plaintiffs could not prove causation because the standard reasonable measures normally used by restaurants to deter criminals, like guards and closed-circuit television cameras, could not possibly have deterred the perpetrator because he did not care about his own survival.[24]

In 1986, Etna Huberty, the widow of James Huberty, unsuccessfully attempted to sue McDonald's and Babcock and Wilcox, his longtime former employer, in an Ohio state court for $5 million. She claimed that the incident was triggered by the combined mixture of eating too many of their chicken nuggets and working around highly poisonous metals. She alleged that monosodium glutamate in the food, combined with the high levels of lead and cadmium in his body, induced delusions and uncontrollable rage. An autopsy did reveal high levels of the metals,[2] most likely built up from fumes inhaled during 14 years of welding. Autopsy results also revealed there were no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the killings. Etna Huberty died in 2003.[5]


James Huberty
James Oliver Huberty.jpg
James O. Huberty, pictured in October, 1983
Born (1942-10-11)October 11, 1942
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
Died July 18, 1984(1984-07-18) (aged 41)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Fatally shot by San Diego Police Department SWAT sniper
Occupation Former welder and security guard
Spouse(s) Etna Huberty
Date July 18, 1984
c. 3:59 p.m.–5:17 p.m.
Location(s) San Ysidro, San Diego
Target(s) Staff and customers of restaurant
Killed 21
Injured 19
Weapon(s) Uzi carbine, Browning HP, 12-gauge Winchester 1200

James Oliver Huberty (October 11, 1942 - July 18, 1984) was born in Canton, Ohio. When he was three, he contracted polio,[25] and even though he made a progressive recovery, the disease caused him to suffer permanent walking difficulties. In the early 1950s, his father bought a farm in the Pennsylvania Amish Country. His mother refused to live in the Amish country, and soon abandoned her family to do sidewalk preaching for a Southern Baptist organization.

In 1962, Huberty enrolled at a Jesuit community college and earned a degree in sociology. He would later receive a license for embalming at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[26] In 1965, he married Etna, a woman he met while attending mortuary school. They had two daughters, Zelia and Cassandra. The Huberty family settled in Massillon, Ohio near Canton, where James worked as an undertaker at the Don Williams Funeral Home. They were forced to relocate to Canton in 1971 after their house in Massillon was set ablaze.

Huberty found work as a welder for Union Metal Inc. while living in Canton. He and Etna had a history of domestic violence, with Etna filing a report with the Canton Department of Children and Family Services that her husband had "messed up" her jaw. She would produce tarot cards and pretend to read his future to pacify him and his bouts of violence, thus producing a temporary calming effect.

Huberty, a survivalist,[27] saw signs of what he thought was growing trouble in America, and believed that government regulations were the cause of business failures, including his own. He believed that international bankers were purposefully manipulating the Federal Reserve System and bankrupting the nation. Convinced that Soviet aggression was everywhere, he believed that the breakdown of society was near, perhaps through economic collapse or nuclear war. He committed himself to prepare to survive this coming collapse and, while in Canton, provisioned his house with thousands of dollars of non-perishable food and six guns that he intended to use to defend his home during what he believed was the coming chaos. When he moved from Ohio he left the food behind but brought the guns with him.[28]

Huberty had an uncontrollable twitch in his right arm as a result of a motorcycle accident, a condition that made it impossible to continue as a welder. The Huberty family left Canton in January 1984 and briefly stayed in Tijuana, Mexico. They then returned to the United States and settled in San Diego's San Ysidro neighborhood. Huberty was able to find work as a security guard. He was dismissed from this position two weeks before the shooting. His apartment was three blocks away from the site of the massacre.

See also[edit]


Other shootings[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Books, the editors of Time-Life (1993). Mass murderers. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books. ISBN 978-0783500041. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "The Chemistry of Violence", Popular Mechanics, March 1998, archived from the original on March 6, 2008 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Time-Life Books 1993 p. 124
  5. ^ a b Gresko, Jessica (July 18, 2004), "20 Years later, San Ysidro McDonald's massacre remembered", North County Times (Escondido, CA), Associated Press, archived from the original on August 31, 2009 
  6. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel; Tibballs, Geoff (1994). Killers: Contract Killers, Spree Killers, Sex Killers, the Ruthless Exponents of Murder, the Most Evil Crime of All. Boxtree. p. 316. ISBN 978-0-7522-0850-3. 
  7. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel; Tibballs, Geoff (1994). Killers: Contract Killers, Spree Killers, Sex Killers, the Ruthless Exponents of Murder, the Most Evil Crime of All. Boxtree. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-7522-0850-3. 
  8. ^ [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil pp. 71-72.]
  9. ^ a b c [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil p. 72.]
  10. ^ [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil p. 70.]
  11. ^ [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil p. 76.]
  12. ^ Gainesville Sun Jul. 20, 1984.
  13. ^ a b c [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil p. 73.]
  14. ^ Gainesville Sun July 20, 1984.
  15. ^ Gainesville Sun July 22, 1984 p. 10A
  16. ^ [Delivered From Evil: 77 Minutes in Hell ISBN 978-1610594943 Delivered From Evil pp. 72-73.]
  17. ^ The Milwaukee Journal. Jul. 17, 1985
  18. ^ The Montreal Gazette. Aug. 8, 1984
  19. ^ a b c Kavanagh, Jim (July 24, 2009), "Slaughter at McDonald's changed how police operate", CNN, retrieved June 3, 2010 
  20. ^ a b c "A massacre in San Ysidro", The San Diego Union-Tribune, retrieved August 11, 2011 
  21. ^ Franscell, Ron (2011). Delivered from evil : true stories of ordinary people who faced monstrous mass killers and survived. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press. ISBN 1592334407. 
  22. ^ a b Ben-Ali, Russell (December 14, 1990), "After a Long Wait, Monument Is Dedicated at Massacre Site", Los Angeles Times, retrieved June 3, 2010 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Lopez v. McDonald's Corp., 193 Cal. App. 3d 495 (1987).
  25. ^ The Evil 100 at Google Books
  26. ^ Encyclopedia of murder & violent crime at Google Books
  27. ^
  28. ^ Mitchell, Richard Sheppard (2002). Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. [page needed]. ISBN 978-0-226-53244-8. 

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