In trying to figure out how messed up the world was the last time America witnessed a total eclipse of the sun, I fell into a Wikipedia hole and somehow rediscovered the story that inspired one of my favourite songs. So settle in while I put on way too much eyeliner and the pink-and-black striped shirt I got from Hot Topic, because I’m about to tell you a story that captured the attention of my true crime obsessed 14-year-old angst-y self. (A love of true crime that resulted in a phone call to my parents from my eighth grade teacher when I brought in an all-too-realistic miniature crime scene diorama for a book report presentation).
This is (a probably terrible and way too brief rendition of) the story behind the 1979 classic, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ by The Boomtown Rats.
On the morning of Monday, January 29th in 1979, someone opened fire on the front gates of the Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. There were two casualties, including the principle of the school and another school employee, both of whom were trying to help get students to safety. Eight students were injured, as was a police officer. Thirty total rounds of ammunition were fired, and it was determined that the shots were coming from the house across the street.
A reporter from the San Diego Union Tribune called the house, and 16-year-old Brenda Spencer answered the phone. When asked if she knew where the shots were coming from, Brenda gave her home address. When the reporter pointed this out, she replied, ‘yeah, who do you think is doing the shooting.’ The reported then asked why, and she said, ‘I don’t like Mondays; this livens up the day.’ This bone-chilling line would eventually become the title and part of the chorus of The Boomtown Rats’ hit song (which you should definitely listen to if you haven’t already). Brenda eventually surrendered to the police, despite initially telling them that she was going to ‘come out shooting’. She was tried as an adult and pled guilty to two accounts of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life.
While my fourteen-year-old self was probably just fixated on the gruesome facts and terribly horrific reasoning behind Spencer’s actions, now (because I am at the very wise age of 21 years old) I see a heart-breaking account of a very young girl, who, from most accounts, grew up in a stressful home environment. She struggled with her mental heath at a time when such things were not discussed or handled in a way that they are today. As is usually the case with these sort of stories, after the shooting there were numerous teachers and acquaintances that came forward and said that she expressed hostility towards police officers, displayed antisocial behaviour, and talked about doing something big that would get her on TV. Just one month before the shooting, it was recommended that she undergo a psychological evaluation and be placed in a mental hospital on account of her severely depressed state; however, her father would not give his permission for her to receive the help she so desperately needed, even though he had been informed that she was suicidal. It is even reported that for Christmas that year, her father gave her a semi-automatic rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition instead of the radio she asked for. When later asked why she thought he would do this, she stated that she believed that he had hoped she would kill herself. I don’t know if you can really say that there was a ‘bright side’ to the events that followed, but once in prison, she finally received the help she required. And who knows for certain, but maybe if she had successfully had the psychological support necessary for her wellbeing sooner, the attack may not have taken place to begin with.
2017 may be terrible and could very easily be more messed up than 1979, but at least we have begun to talk openly about mental health and are raising awareness in order to give people access to the help they may need.
For more info on the “I Don’t Like Mondays” shooting, check out the very awesome source I used: Episode 21 (‘Because 7 8 9’) of the brilliantly funny podcast My Favorite Murder.
Check out the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yteMugRAc0