I Don't Like Anniversaries: An Essay

In a San Carlos, California schoolyard, on Monday January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer appeared with a rifle she just received for Christmas, and began shooting.

When asked why she did it, she responded: "I just don't like Mondays."
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Yup, that's right. "I Don't Like Mondays" is based on a true story. 25 years ago today, Brenda started practicing with a .22 semi-automatic rifle that her Dad, Wallace bought her for Christmas. Along with 500 rounds of ammunition.

Her house was across the street from the Grover Cleveland Elementary School. It was 8:30 in the morning, and the kids were just arriving. At first no one could tell what was going on, the .22 was quiet, you couldn't hear her gunshots. Students were just falling down. One boy recalled walking across campus, seeing the principal, Burton Wragg 53 and the janitor, Mike Suchar 56 lying face up on the ground, but not knowing why. Then he was shot in the back. He was dragged away by another student and recovered.

Later, during the investigation, it was revealed that Brenda started picking off kids in sky blue clothes first, because blue was her favorite color.

Barely twenty minutes later she was done. She went inside her house and waited for the authorities. They placed a trash truck between her house and the school and negotiated with her for seven hours before she turned herself over to them.

Meanwhile the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof, was doing a radio interview in Los Angeles. During a break he saw the story coming in on the telex machine (the one that was kept so clean as it types to a waiting world). Upon returning to his hotel he quickly wrote the song, which he thought would make an interesting B-side for the band. Their label thought otherwise.

Wallace Spencer, Brenda's Dad, the guy who bought her the gun for Christmas, threatened to sue any record store in the San Diego area that carried the hit single. He would later marry and have a child with Brenda's former cellmate from the juvenile holding facility. As of 1993, but perhaps even today, he was still living at the corner house on Lake Atlin Avenue, across from the Cleveland Elementary School which was closed and opened later as a hebrew school. He doesn't talk to reporters.

Brenda has been denied parole at each hearing. She has claimed that she was given mind-altering drugs while in custody, to induce her to plead guilty, and for the first two years that she was incarcerated. She has also said that she was abusing drugs and alcohol at the time of the shootings, though no traces were found in her system after her arrest. At one point she claimed that many of the victims (nine injured, two fatalities) were probably hit by the police shots, and not by her bullets.

Bob Geldof claims that he once received a letter from Brenda. In it she expressed appreciation for his having written the song, and that he (and the song) had helped to make her famous. She expressed an interest in meeting him upon her release. Geldof has specifically expressed no desire or intent to ever meeting Brenda Spencer.

I cannot think of something to add to this story. I confess to a morbid fascination with stories like these. Perhaps it is because these horrific events usually leave no one to answer our questions. Perhaps we think that we can rationalize the events if we know that someone had 'a good reason' for doing the unthinkable. Columbine, or the others (there are others, how sad is that?) could almost be explained away if we could find something logical behind it. I think it is our nature.

Brenda Spencer, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Charles Joseph Whitman and too many others lost that part of themselves that stops a person from becoming a monster. Is it not possible that we are afraid that any one of us could go that way as well? Is that why we look for a reason, a sign, an explanation?

I hate to be cliché but perhaps Bob Geldof put it best in his song "I Don't Like Mondays"
"They can see no reasons
Cos' there are no reasons
What reasons do you need to be shown?"

Toby Wallwork, 2004

Posted: Tue - February 24, 2004 at 08:56 PM