October 17, 1955|
Montgomery County, Alabama, United States
|Died||February 24, 1984
South Central Los Angeles, California,
|Cause of death||Suicide (Gunshot wound to head)|
|Date||February 24, 1984
2:23 p.m. – 2:39 p.m.
|Location(s)||49th Street Elementary School, South Central Los Angeles, California, United States|
Tyrone Mitchell (October 17, 1955 – February 24, 1984) was an American who killed two people and wounded twelve others when shooting at students leaving 49th Street Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles, California on February 24, 1984. Mitchell then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a double-barreled shotgun.
Mitchell was born to Lee Charles (July 24, 1931 – November 18, 1978) and Annie Lee Mitchell (July 7, 1930 – November 18, 1978) in Alabama. He grew up in a South Central Los Angeles house that was later razed to build the 49th Street Elementary School. Mitchell and his family were members of the Reverend Jim Jones's Peoples Temple, and they followed Jones — without Mitchell — in 1977 to Jonestown in Guyana. Mitchell lost both of his parents, four sisters and a brother in the mass murder-suicide that took place at Jonestown on November 18, 1978. According to Mitchell's fiancée, 29-year-old Marylou Hill, who would also join the Peoples Temple, he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result.
Mitchell returned to the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood where he was raised. He lived with his fiancée, Hill, in a two-story, white Victorian house at 730 East 50th Street, just 50 feet away from the school that now stood on the property where his childhood home had been. The house bore a crudely lettered sign "God's Love" and commanded a sweeping view of the school playground. Mitchell developed a reputation in the neighborhood for his irrational behavior and as a user of narcotics such as PCP. His fiancée vehemently denied that he had "a problem" with the drug. On December 5, 1979, about a year after his return, Mitchell was arrested at his residence. He had been in a dispute with his uncle and landlord, Willie Lee Mitchell, about who would relight the pilot light on Tyrone's water heater. Reportedly, the uncle had threatened to arm himself during the dispute, and Tyrone, in turn, fired three shots from a .30-caliber rifle into the air before police arrived. Two months later he was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of discharging a firearm within city limits, fined $200 and placed on two years' probation. Hill said that Mitchell kept a "high-powered rifle" in the house and, by 1984, he occasionally fired it at the sky. According to adjacent neighbors, in February 1984 Mitchell regularly shot at airliners passing overhead, which were landing at Los Angeles International Airport, located about five miles to the west. These incidents were not reported to police out of fear. In an incident on February 11, one of Mitchell's uncles reported to police that Mitchell had pointed a machine gun at him. No weapon was confiscated, no arrest made, and the matter was turned over to the city attorney.
Mitchell was a student at California State University, Long Beach for several years, where he attended a variety of classes. He did not hold a job. His fiancée, Marylou Hill, worked as a preschool teacher. Mitchell wanted to marry Hill right away, but she wanted to wait until their financial situation improved.
Shooting and siege
At 2:23 pm on Friday, February 24, 1984, about 100 children of the 49th Street Elementary School had just emerged from their classrooms and onto the school's playground when Mitchell opened fire from the bay window of his house located just across the street. Police in a squad car heard shots ring out at 2:23 pm and reported the incident immediately. Mitchell shot 39 rounds from an AR-15 rifle and 18 rounds from two shotguns down into the crowd of students. Several children fell from their wounds in the schoolyard, while most escaped running back into the school and were taken to the library on the building's opposite side, where they waited while their parents were telephoned to pick them up. Those who remained outside hid behind trees, garbage cans, and any other available cover. Some of the children were screaming and crying. Seven ambulances were dispatched to the scene. A team of paramedics rescued several children while Mitchell continued to fire from his second-story window. Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic Jack Frye and his partner drove directly onto the schoolyard and pulled children into their ambulance. "We pulled the kids, injured or not, into the ambulance. We just wanted to get them safe. We didn't know what could happen," said Frye later. Some of the injured students were flown out by police helicopter. When the barrage had ceased minutes later, the school, which enrolled 1,164 students, was evacuated, and Mitchell's house was surrounded by police.
A siege ensued during which Hill arrived and asked police to allow her to enter the house to try to talk with Mitchell. Authorities refused her pleas, fearing she would be taken hostage. The LAPD SWAT team arrived and evacuated houses adjacent to Mitchell's house. The siege ended when a four-man SWAT team stormed the house minutes before 6 p.m. Police fired at least 16 canisters of tear gas into the house before the SWAT team entered. Mitchell was found laying face up on the floor of his second-story bedroom. He was dressed in camouflage pants, a khaki shirt and jungle-style combat boots, an empty knife scabbard attached to his belt. Mitchell had killed himself with a single wound to the head from a 12 gauge double-barreled shotgun. No one else was found in the house.
At the time of the incident, Mitchell had injured 14 people, mostly children. Most of them were treated at local hospitals. One of the first children to fall under the attack was 10-year-old Shala Eubanks. A schoolyard supervisor, Albert Jones, 50, made several attempts to reach her, but every time he approached, more shots rang out, forcing him to take cover. Eubanks was carried into a classroom by two Los Angeles police officers. Two Los Angeles paramedics tried to save her, but their efforts were in vain. She died on the classroom floor. By late Friday night, three other casualties were in guarded but stable condition, another was in good condition, and the rest had been released from hospitals after treatment of minor injuries. Carlos Lopez, 24, had been walking past the school on his way to a nearby park for his daily jogging stint when the shooting erupted. He suffered gunshot wounds to the abdomen and underwent surgery at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, where most of his pancreas and spleen were removed. He was listed in "guarded" condition for eight weeks until it worsened and he died on April 13, 1984.
A funeral service for Shala Eubanks was held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, February 29 at Roger Williams Baptist Church. Over a thousand people filled the church on West Adams Boulevard. Among the mourners were several members of the Los Angeles School Board, including school superintendent Harry Handler, school principal Charles Jackson, and almost 100 teachers and students. The funeral of Carlos Lopez was held on Saturday, April 21. Nearly 100 friends and relatives throughout the Los Angeles area, most of them factory workers like Lopez, gathered at Park Lawn Cemetery in the City of Commerce.
Mitchell's motive remains unclear. According to Willie Lee Mitchell, Tyrone had been in the house all day on the day of the shooting. Many believe that Mitchell's actions were linked to the deaths of his immediate family. A toxicological study of Mitchell's body fluids postmortem by the Los Angeles County coroner found no PCP or other illegal drugs, and only a small amount of alcohol, .03%, less than a third of the legal limit.
- Shala Eubanks, 10, shot, died within hours
- Carlos Lopez, 24, born and raised in Nayarit, Mexico, moved to Los Angeles when he was 16, factory worker. Passer-by, suffered gunshot wounds to the abdomen, pancreas and spleen, underwent surgery at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital, died on April 13, 1984
- Anna Gonzales, 8, shot in the intestine, one kidney destroyed, underwent several hours of surgery at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital
- Stephen Gomez, 9, wounded when gunfire ricocheted from the pavement, striking him in the right side of his abdomen, chest and leg, did not require surgery, treated at Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital
- Iran Macias, 10, admitted in good condition to Orthopaedic Hospital
- Albert Jones, 50, schoolyard supervisor, shotgun pellet wounds and other minor wounds, treated and released from Orthopaedic Hospital
- Latreece Williams, 11, shotgun pellet wounds and other minor wounds, treated and released from Orthopaedic Hospital
- Alicia Pena, 10, shotgun pellet wounds and other minor wounds, treated and released from Orthopaedic Hospital
- Mayra Cruz, 10, shotgun pellet wounds and other minor wounds, treated and released from Orthopaedic Hospital
- Jose Prado, 12, shotgun pellet wounds and other minor wounds, treated and released from Orthopaedic Hospital
- Mario Hernandez, 9, minor wounds
- Eloisa Cruz, 10, minor wounds
- Jose Gavino, 11, minor wounds
- Victoriano Ulloa, 11, minor wounds
- Girl killed, 11 shot at school on coast; suspect found dead, The New York Times (February 25, 1984)
- Moore, Rebecca. Who Died in Jonestown and Georgetown, 18 November 1978?. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
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- Sniping At L. A. School Still Haunts Young Pupils, Jet (March 12, 1984)
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- Man wounded by sniper dies, Eugene Register-Guard (April 15, 1984)
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- "The Region: Supervisors Delay Action on Fired Black". Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1984. p. B2.