The Grisly Musical Legacy of Brenda Ann Spencer

School shootings are so common in the United States that unless the body count passes a certain threshold, they barely make the news. But there was a time when they were met with worldwide shock and horror.

Long before Columbine, there was Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16-year-old loner struggling to make it through high school. Ostracized by her classmates and suffering from depression (social workers thought she might have suicidal tendencies, too), professed to hate the police and sometimes promised that she was going to “do something big “to get on TV.” But because she was quiet with her weirdness, no one paid her much attention.

She didn’t exactly get the greatest parenting, either. Just before Christmas 1979, she told her father that she wanted a radio. Instead, he bought her a Rutger 10/20 semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle with a telescopic sight. And 500 rounds of ammunition. For a 16-year-old depressed teenager. (She did enjoy shooting birds with a BB gun, so maybe dad thought it was a time for an upgrade.)

Brenda took this as a message that she should kill herself. But then she changed her mind.

On January 29, 1979, she set up her rifle in her bedroom window, which was directly across from Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. By the time she was finished firing about 30 rounds. principal Burton Wragg and custodian Mike Suchar were dead. Eight students and a cop responding to the gun call were wounded.

Why did she do it? She shrugged “I don’t like Mondays. It was a lot of fun seeing children shot.”

Spencer was tried as an adult and convicted on two counts of murder. She’s still locked up in the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.

And yes, this is the inspiration of the Boomtown Rats song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.” I remember seeing this performance and interview on Merv Griffin back in 1981.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “The Grisly Musical Legacy of Brenda Ann Spencer

  • October 11, 2017 at 10:30 am


    I think this article needs a bit of cleaning up:

    By the time she was finished firing about 03 rounds.

    Spencer was tried as an adult and convicted on two counts of women.


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