Brenda Ann Spencer Shot Up A School. Her Reason? “I Don’t Like Mondays”

Published May 7, 2021
Updated July 30, 2021

When asked by a reporter why she fired 30 rounds into the schoolyard of Grover Cleveland Elementary School, Brenda Ann Spencer's answer was simple: "I don't like Mondays."

On Monday, January 29, 1979, a journalist from The San Diego Union Tribune got the quote of a lifetime from 17-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer.

“I don’t like Mondays,” she said. “This livens up the day.”

Brenda Ann Spencer

Bettman/Getty ImagesBrenda Ann Spencer’s yearbook picture in 1979.

The “this,” she had been referring to was the fact that she had just fired 30 rounds of ammunition into an elementary school, and was now barricaded inside her home.

A little before 8 AM that morning, children began to line up outside Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. They were waiting for their principal to open up the gates so they could head inside.

Across the street, Brenda Ann Spencer was watching them from her home, a ramshackle house filled with empty alcohol bottles and a single mattress she shared with her father. As the children lined up outside the gate, Spencer took out the Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle that she’d gotten as a Christmas gift. Then, she aimed it out the window and began firing.

The principal of the school, Burton Wragg was killed as he was trying to help the kids through the gates. A custodian, Mike Suchar was killed trying to pull a student to safety.

Miraculously, none of the children were killed, though eight of them and a responding police officer were injured.

Despite killing two and injuring nine before the gun was empty, Spencer continued to fire 30 rounds into the crowd of panicked children. Then, she put the rifle down, closed and locked all of the doors and windows, and waited.

The police arrived on the scene and instantly knew the shots had come from Spencer’s home. They sent negotiators in to speak with her, though she didn’t cooperate. She warned them that she was armed and still had ammunition at her disposal. If they made her come out, she would come out shooting.

Brenda Ann Spencer In Jail

Brenda Ann Spencer being lead into prison after the Cleveland Elementary School shooting.

During her time barricaded in her home, she gave several interviews with newspaper reporters, including the one with The San Diego Union Tribune. Eventually, though she claims the negotiators had no part in it, she decided to surrender. After investigating the house, police found empty beer and whiskey bottles scattered near Spencer. However, she claimed (and appeared) that she wasn’t intoxicated.

Though she was only 17 at the time, Brenda Ann Spencer was tried as an adult for the severity of her crimes. She was charged with two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, to which she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 to life.

During the trial, it came out that Spencer had tried to shoot at the school one year earlier. Using a BB gun, she had shot out the windows of the school, though did not manage to hurt anyone. She was put on probation for the crime.

Her probation officer suggested that she spend some time in a mental hospital for depression, as she had shown signs of being suicidal to the staff at her school – a facility for troubled kids. Spencer’s father refused to give permission for his daughter to be admitted to a psych hospital, claiming that he could deal with the suicidal thoughts and the depression himself.

Brenda Spencer On Trial

Bettmann/Getty imagesBrenda Ann Spencer on her way to her trial.

It was he who bought Brenda Ann Spencer the gun she used to fire at the school.

“I asked for a radio and he bought me a gun,” she said. “I felt like he wanted me to kill myself.”

Her attorney’s argued that the treatment she received from her father was the reason for her act of senseless violence, but it didn’t matter. To this day she remains in prison and has been denied parole several times.

Though the name Brenda Ann Spencer may not ring any bells, the story and the phrase have lived on in macabre infamy.

Inspired by the tragic shooting, Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats wrote a song titled I Don’t Like Mondays that topped the U.K. charts for four weeks, and got extensive airtime in the United States. Though she’s maintained that she regrets her actions for the past 39 years, Geldof doesn’t believe it.

“She wrote to me saying ‘she was glad she’d done it because I’d made her famous’,” Geldof said in an interview several years after the shooting. “Which is not a good thing to live with.”

After learning about Brenda Spencer and the Cleveland Elementary School shooting, read about the two-year-old boy who was shot on Facebook live. Then read about the toddler who injured fellow students with a gun he found in his daycare.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.