Survivors recount San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre after 30 years
Survivor Of San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre Shares His Story
Thirty years ago, Alberto Leos was a 16-year-old employee at the McDonald’s in San Ysidro when a mentally disturbed gunman opened fire, killing 21 people and wounding 19 others.
Leos, who was among the wounded, spoke Tuesday as the San Diego City Council marked the anniversary of the massacre. The events he witnessed that day changed his life, he said, and inspired him to become a San Diego police officer.
On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old unemployed security guard, went into the fast-food restaurant on West San Ysidro Boulevard armed with an Uzi automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol and began firing. He was eventually killed by a police sharpshooter.
Leos said he saw children and mothers shot and killed. He and a few co-workers hid in the back of the eatery, but Huberty found them about 20 minutes after the shooting started, Leos said.
He began to gun down his victims — who ranged in age from eight months to 74 years old — and after an hour and ten minutes a 60-member SWAT team surrounded the building and killed James Huberty with a sniper shot.
Zelia Huberty still remembers it clearly.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think [of] it or relive it,” she said.
“Sometimes, just a sound or the temperature will bring [the memory] back … I see it all over again.”
When it was all over, she and her 10-year-old sister went to live with their mother who Zelia said was very depressed.
She also attended state-mandated therapy that ended after 12 weeks because of Huberty’s unwillingness to participate.
“Those sessions were rather a nuisance,” Huberty said. “There wasn’t really anything that occurred before to give any guidelines to therapist, police, psychologists and criminologists.
“And it’s up to the person — the attacker’s family member — what their resolution is. No one can dictate that.”
She hasn’t sought any more therapy in her life, but has worked to separate herself from her father.
“I’m the complete opposite of my father,” Huberty said.
“As a vocation, I’m a nurse, so I help others. And that’s been my own therapy.”
Mass shooters don’t commonly have children and when they do, they’re likely to be victims of their parents’ crimes, according to Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama that specializes in mass shootings.
Zelia Huberty is one of the rare exceptions and so is the six-month-old daughter of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik — the perpetrators of the recent San Bernardino massacre.
Huberty fears the kind of backlash the child might face.
“People do not receive the same kind of community support that they would if a family member had died in a car crash or a heart attack,” Huberty said. “The families often become demonized.”
She went on to say that Farook and Malik’s daughter benefits from her youth.
“This little girl whose parents did this act, she is at such a wonderful age since she’s so young and won’t remember any of it,” she said.
Huberty believes the young girl should find out about the tragedy from family before she’s blindsided from an Internet search.
“I would tell that little girl ‘You have a choice to make. You can feel sorry for yourself or you can say F— it, and move on. You’re not like them,’” Huberty said.
SAN YSIDRO MASSACRE: JULY 18, 1984 – Timeline
This photo of Omarr Hernandez lying next to his bicycle on July 18, 1984 became a symbol of the devastating McDonald’s massacre. The 11-year old boy was among 21 people killed by James Oliver Huberty Photo by Barry Fitzsimmons
A massacre in San Ysidro
On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty opened fire in a San Ysidro McDonald’s restaurant, killing 21 people and injuring 19 others before he was slain by a police sharpshooter. At the time, it was the largest massacre in the United States.
Huberty, a 41-year-old unemployed security guard dressed in camouflage fatigue pants, walked into the restaurant armed with an Uzi semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol and started shooting.
At 4 p.m. Police communications received the first telephone call about the shooting. One hour and 17 minutes later, at 5:17 p.m. SWAT marksman Charles Foster, firing from atop the post office just south of McDonald’s, killed Huberty with single shot from a telescope-sighted Remington .308-caliber rifle.
Media were setting up in Los Angeles for coverage of the summer Olympic games and 200 reporters flooded into San Ysidro to record the carnage. At the time it was the largest one-day toll taken by a single killer in American history.
McDonald’s Corp. razed the restaurant and deeded the land to the city of San Diego, which sold it to Southwestern College in 1988.
In 1990 a memorial was erected at the massacre site at 522 W. San Ysidro Blvd.
One of the injured died the following day, so some initial stories say only 20 dead.
The following are stories written from the day after the tragedy until five years ago.
Twenty people were killed and 20 injured when James Oliver Huberty went berserk inside a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro yesterday and fired a fusillade of shots from three weapons.
An unemployed security guard armed with a rifle, shotgun and pistol opened fire inside a crowded restaurant in San Ysidro yesterday, slaughtering 20 persons and injuring at least 12 others, some gravely, in the worst one-day death toll by a single killer in U.S. history.
Time moved slowly along San Ysidro Boulevard that hot and lazy Wednesday afternoon. There was time to snack. To bank. To swim. And to die.
When Phil Moomjean entered the McDonalds’ Restaurant on San Ysidro Boulevard, he had a sense of deja vu.
Violent people have easy access to unguarded public places and to weapons of immense destructive power; mental health services have a questionable ability to find and effectively treat those people; and police are limited in their response to an explosion of rage.
Adelina and Fernando Hernandez Sr. will follow a decade-old tradition tomorrow and place red roses on the grave of their son, Omarr, who was 11 when a bullet knocked him to the sidewalk in front of McDonald’s.
The shots fired at point-blank range pierced both arms, his right leg, stomach and chest, and Alberto Leos crumpled to the kitchen floor next to three co-workers at a San Ysidro McDonald’s.
It was the year that put San Diego on the map of America’s big cities. Herewith, in chronological order, are the top San Diego news events of 1984.
San Diego paramedics rush to help the wounded after gunman, James Oliver Huberty shot and killed 21 and wounded 19 others at McDonalds fastfood restaurant. Photo by James Skovmand / Union-Tribune
Time of terror
A chronology of events during the San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre that took 21 lives on July 18, 1984
4 p.m. to 4:09
Police communications receives first telephone call of shooting at McDonald’s.
First police — four patrol units and a supervisor — are dispatched.
First description of suspect is received and broadcast.
Officer Mike Rosario, first on the scene, calls out over his radio: “Shots being fired at me. Returning fire with two rounds. Request code 10.”
Paramedic unit rushing to the scene is halted by gunfire. Meanwhile, San Diego Fire Department dispatcher alerts LifeFlight emergency crews at UCSD Medical Center to prepare to dispatch helicopters.
4:10 to 4:19
Command post is established two blocks from shooting scene. Full SWAT alert issued.
North side of McDonald’s is surrounded by police.
Fire Department dispatcher radios LifeFlight again and orders a unit dispatched.
Dr. Tom S. Neuman, a pilot, and three nurses board LifeFlight helicopter No. 2 and take off.
Restaurant is surrounded by uniformed police and investigations officers.
4:20 to 4:45
Second description of suspect is broadcast, his shooting continues.
Second LifeFlight helicopter leaves helipad with doctor and two nurses.
Third description of suspect broadcast.
SWAT Commander Lt. Jerry Sanders, at a reception in Mission Valley, is notified of shootings after his pager failed to work.
First SWAT sniper team to arrive at the scene relieves officers at north side of restaurant.
All officers around McDonald’s relieved by SWAT team members.
Two witnesses escape through back door of restaurant and are debriefed.
Final, more accurate description of Huberty is broadcast.
Witnesses verify more than a dozen people still inside, although it’s undetermined how many are alive. Confirmation that suspect is alone and armed with multiple weapons.
Second SWAT sniper team in place on the post office roof.
Sniper team on north side of building asks if “green light” — orders to shoot to kill — is authorized.
5:05 to 5:17
SWAT Commander Sanders, en route to the scene in car, hears on radio that green light is given to sharpshooters and rescinds the order.
Sanders, on the scene, gives green light.
Suspect fires volley of shots through windows toward San Ysidro Boulevard.
SWAT officer on ground level at post office fires two rounds at suspect in response to repeated gunfire.
SWAT marksman Charles Foster, firing from atop the post office just south of McDonald’s, kills Huberty