San Diego

SDUSD Holds School Safety Forum 40 Years After City’s First School Shooting

A survivor of the first school shooting in San Diego nearly 40 years ago shared his story Monday at a San Diego Unified School District forum dedicated to school security and gun safety.

On January 29, 1979, then 16-year-old Brenda Spencer fired several rounds at students and staff on campus at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Carlos from her bedroom window across the street.

Two adults died and eight students were injured all because, as Spencer put it, "I don't like Mondays.”

Survivor Chris Stanley was 8 years old at the time of the shooting. He stood just steps away from Principal Burton Wragg and custodian Mike Suchar as they were shot and killed.

The school has since been demolished, but a memorial in Wragg and Suchar’s honor stands outside of district headquarters.

What Stanley saw that day inspired him to become a teacher. He says he’s keenly aware of those that struggle in school and tries to create positive experiences for his students. One way he does that is with an annual fishing trip.

Stanley says school shootings are as much a part of our present as they are our past.

"Why are we still in this predicament? Why has this not been fixed? We are all equally to blame as citizens,” he said.

The failings he saw in the school system then are that same that concern him now. He says better communication between parents and schools, more resources like counselors for students and smaller classrooms are the answer to troubled kids like Brenda Spencer.

He says he still struggles with the pain of that day, but 40 years later, he takes comfort in being part of the solution.

“You don't relive the bad. You take those lemons and try to make lemonade with it,” he said.

"Principal Wragg and Mike Suchar lost their lives trying to save children from the first school shooter in San Diego history. Forty years later, we have to ask ourselves -- as a city -- whether we are doing everything we can possibly do to protect young people today," said School Board Member Kevin Beiser. "The issue of gun violence is too big for schools to solve on our own, but schools are the right place for the conversation to start."

District leaders used the forum as an opportunity to outline some of the improvements it’s made to keeps students safe, like bolstered campus fencing and surveillance cameras.

The SDUSD Board recognizes February 11-15 as Gun Violence Prevention Week.

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