The Horrific McDonald's Massacre | James Huberty | Part Four

(The memorial to those who were killed on that devastating afternoon on the 18th of July, 1984. Photo credit: historycollection)

Continued from part three...

At 5:17pm, Charles Foster (who had been watching James' movements closely in the restaurant) was trying to get a clear shot and at that moment, he took his chance. James was in his sights and he fired a single round from a range of around 35 yards (32 metres). The bullet entered James' chest, severed the aorta just under his heart and exited thorough his spine. James fell backwards to the floor in front of the service counter and died almost instantly. 

The horrific nightmare had lasted 77 minutes, 77 minutes too long. In that time, James Huberty had fired a minimum of 245 rounds of ammunition, coldly murdering 20 innocent people and wounding many more. One of the victims who'd been wounded had died the next day in the hospital bringing the total number of people who were murdered to 21. 17 people were killed in the restaurant and four in the immediate vicinity. 

The victims (whose ages ranged from 8 months old to 74 years old) were predominately, though not exclusively, of Mexican or Mexican-American ancestry, reflecting local demographics.

''It was just like they had just stopped in time. All these bodies were lying around. Heads were slumped on the table.....the old man walking out the door was lying on the floor, donuts beside him. The two kids were dead by their bikes, the infant was dead in the arms of the people....there were two burned hamburgers on the grill.'' - Dr Tom A Neuman. UC San Diego Medical Centre/Life Flight Physician. 

Due to the number of victims, local funeral homes had to use the San Ysidro Civic Centre to hold all of the wakes. The local parish, Mount Carmel church, held back to back funeral masses.

Within two days of the massacre, the restaurant had been refurbished and renovated and there were plans for it to re-open as soon as possible but this decision was scrapped due to public outcry and the restaurant was demolished. McDonald's announced a commitment to donate $1 million to a survivors fund. Joan Kroc who was the widow of McDonald's founder, Roy Kroc, donated $100,000 of her own money to the fund. 

The ground that was left after the restaurant had been demolished had been donated by McDonald's to the city under the stipulation that no other restaurant be built upon the site.

For over 4 years, nobody could decide whether to turn the site into a memorial park or something else. Several makeshift memorials were created but soon torn down. The land was eventually sold in February 1988 to Southwestern College for $136,000 with the agreement that a memorial would be built. 

A memorial was designed by a former student of Southwestern College, Robert Valdes. The memorial consists of 21 hexagonal white marble pillars which range in height from one to six feet, each baring the name of one of the victims.

As a result of the massacre, New measures were brought in and increased training for special units and more powerful firearms were purchased to better equip police to deal with such tragedies. 

Several family members of those murdered along with survivors, tried to sue McDonald's. These lawsuits were dismissed as the court found that McDonald's was in no way to blame for what happened and there was no way for anyone to have known what was going to take place that day. 

In the weeks after the massacre, Etna and her daughters stayed with friends despite the protests from other residents. Shockingly, Etna received the first payout from the survivors fund and in 1986 she unsuccessfully tried to sue McDonald's (claiming their food was partly to blame for her husband committing the massacre) and James' previous employers where he worked as a welder for 13 years. She said that they were to blame too as her husband had inhaled toxic fumes whilst working for them. 

James Huberty's autopsy found that he had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the shootings. His body was cremated on the 23rd of July and his ashes were interred in his home state of Ohio. James was 41 years old at the time of the massacre.

Etna and her daughters moved to another town and changed their names. Etna died of breast cancer in 2003.

One of the survivors, Alberto Leos, later became a police officer.

My thoughts...

As I mentioned earlier, I knew some of the details of the case but not the exact time line. It was really harrowing having to go through the details of what happened to the victims, especially the children. It's hard to believe how incompetent the lady at the Mental Health Clinic was, surely she should have known that you can't judge someones state of mind based on how they sound on a quick phone call. In a lot of cases, many people sound and act calm before they go onto to commit crimes. It seems that James' problems started when he was a child, especially around the time that he was affected with polio.

I think about that horrible afternoon and the fact that James and his family had visited another branch of McDonald's earlier that day. It makes me wonder if he was racist towards Mexican people, he wasn't particularly friendly to his neighbours when he lived in Mexico and the fact that he'd chosen that particular branch of McDonald's in an area of San Diego where a lot of Mexican families had lived. The fact that somebody had married him came as a shock, he wasn't exactly Mr Charming but later when we learnt of the type of person Etna was, you could see that she wasn't exactly right in the head either.

I was disgusted when I read that Etna received the first pay out of the survivors fund. She is not a survivor in my book and she knew James better than anyone. She knew about the guns, his violent behaviour, his suicide attempt and crazy ramblings. When he said he was going ''hunting for humans'', she should have called the police and her actions after the massacre, receiving the money from the survivors' fund and then trying to sue McDonald's and James' previous employer, say to me that she was trying to get as much money out of the situation as she could.

Most of us have gone to McDonald's at one time or another and we know how busy these places can be. To think that you could be sat there, talking to friends and enjoying your meal and then suddenly a crazed gunman bursts in, it doesn't bear thinking about. Those poor people on that day, with no way of ever knowing what was about to happen. The whole thing was so cold and James Huberty was an absolute monster with not an ounce of feeling for anyone.

What are your thoughts on the case? leave them below or come and have a chat with me on social media.

Further reading & sources:

History Collection - 1984 McDonald's Massacre
San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre
Murderpedia: James Huberty
Find A Grave: James Oliver Huberty
ABC 10 News: Remembering The McDonald's Massacre
Morbid Minds: The 1984 McDonald's Massacre
Massacre At McDonald's - James Huberty

RIP to all of those who lives were so cruelly taken that day and prayers for their families and the survivors.

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Wicked Child | The Mary Bell Case

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The Sylvia Likens Case

The Tragic Life & Death of Marvin Gaye

The Camden Ripper: Anthony John Hardy

Deadly Obsession: The Ricardo Lopez Story

Targeted: The Kriss Donald Story

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Stalked To Death: The Alissa Blanton Story

Rod Ferrell And The Kentucky Vampire Cult

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  1. It's interesting how not only the mental health clinic dropped the ball, but the dispatcher did as well. A lot of moving parts in this case. I also was wondering if he was prejudiced towards the Hispanic community as I was reading all the names of the victims. This was a great read, I had not heard of this tragedy.

    1. I thought the exact same thing. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it : ) x

  2. I remember this tragedy when it happened hearing about it in the news on the east coast of the US. Ironically, I was in San Isidro recently and had the wrong address from an internet site and it took me to another McDonald's restaurant near the border. I wanted to pay my respects to the poor people who died in this evil act. I plan on visiting again later this year (2021) now that I have the correct address. I think the shooter was a madman and pure evil. It makes me so sad thinking about those innocent victims, all of them. I used to believe in god, however this incident and many many more other evil acts that have occurred through history have made me lose my faith in a god. The world is spiraling out of control. Watch yourself out there, there still are many good people out there. I liked your article Kitty. I think your sexy too. Bye now. Don A.