Brenda Spencer was born on April 3rd, 1962 in San Diego, California (the San Carlos neighborhood) to Wallace and Dot Spencer. She lived in a house that was located across the street from the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the San Diego Unified School District. When her parents separated, she lived with her father in poverty. They slept on the floor on a single mattress with empty alcohol bottles throughout the house.
Acquaintances spoke of Spencer as having expressed hostility toward policemen, even talked about shooting one, and talked about doing something big to get on TV. Although she showed exceptional skill in photography, she was extremely uninterested in school. Later when she was in custody it was discovered she had damage to the temporal lobe of her brain, which was attributed to a bicycle accident.
In early 1978, the staff at a facility for problem youth (where Spencer was referred to for truancy,) informed her family that she was suicidal. During that summer, she was arrested for shooting out of the windows of Cleveland Elementary with a BB gun, as well as charged with burglary. In December, a psychiatric evaluation that was arranged by her probation officer recommended that she be admitted to a mental hospital for depression, but her father refused to give permission to do so. On Christmas that year her father gave her a Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle with a scope and 500 rounds of ammunition. Spencer said later “I felt like he wanted me to kill myself” in regards to the gun.
On the morning of January 29th, 1979, Spencer began shooting from her home at children who were waiting outside Cleveland Elementary School for the principal, Burton Wragg, to open the gates. She injured eight children and killed Wragg, who was trying to protect the children. Custodian Mike Suchar was also killed trying to pull a student to safety. A police officer responding to a call for assistance was wounded in the neck when he arrived. After firing 30 rounds of ammunition, Spencer barricaded herself inside her house for several hours. She had a phone call with a journalist from The San Diego Union-Tribune, who reported that she said “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day” in response to why she committed the shooting. She also spoke with police negotiators and telling them she would come out shooting. She eventually surrendered. Police found beer and whiskey bottles around the house but Spencer herself didn’t seem intoxicated.
Spencer was tried as an adult and pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. While in prison she was diagnosed with epilepsy and received medication to treat epilepsy and depression.
Spencer has had four unsuccessful parole hearings as of December of 2015. As of June of 2017 she remains in prison at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.