FOLLOW-UP

The scars of a massacre

ANN WALMSLEY October 22 1984
FOLLOW-UP

The scars of a massacre

ANN WALMSLEY October 22 1984

The scars of a massacre

FOLLOW-UP

Three months after 41-year-old James Huberty strode into a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif., shot 21 people to death and wounded 24 others, the impoverished Mexican-American community remains numbed. Huberty’s spine-chilling act has left the injured survivors scarred psychologically as well as physically. They, as well as others who were in the restaurant but who escaped his bullets, have been undergoing psychotherapy for depression and recurring nightmares.

At the same time, some of the families who lost wage earners in the massacre are struggling to get compensation from a disorganized victims’ assistance fund. As well, more than 20 survivors have launched lawsuits against the hamburger franchise for failing to provide adequate security. Last month bulldozers razed the shell of the ill-fated restaurant, but the memories remain. Said Henry Tarke, a psychiatric social worker who is treating a number of the survivors: “They all saw the bodies of the children outside the restaurant. They will never forget that.”

Huberty’s rampage was the worst killing spree by one man in a single day in U.S. history. The recently fired security guard left the two-bedroom apartment that he shared with his family at 4 p.m. that afternoon, saying that he was “going hunting... hunting for humans.” Tragically, he found them in the bustling restaurant located just 135 metres away from his apartment complex. In fewer than 10 minutes he turned it into a grim arena of carnage, firing spasmodic bursts from an arsenal of weapons, including a shotgun, an Uzi sub-machinegun and a pistol.

After the massacre Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, donated $100,000 to set up a victims’ compensation fund, and the company immediately added $1 million. So far a team of San Ysidro volunteers administering the money has distributed about $250,000, mostly to cover victims’ medical and funeral expenses. But survivors whose injuries prevent them from returning to work say that obtaining wage compensation from the fund has proven extremely difficult. One survivor, Juan Tokanu, 33, a truckdriver who suffered bullet and shrapnel wounds in his legs, made five unsuccessful trips to the fund office seeking support for his family.

The survivors who filed suits against McDonald’s claim that the corporation failed to provide security for the restaurant, even though the outlet had been the scene of a number of violent incidents involving youth gangs. Said James Frantz, a lawyer for five of the claimants: “McDonald’s was notified by employees and security company personnel about crime incidents and it refused to provide armed security based on costs.” But Charles Rubner, a spokesman in Chicago for McDonald’s, said that his company was “incidental to this bizarre act.”

McDonald’s plans to open a new outlet in a different San Ysidro site early next year. And, in a move that her neighbors consider foolhardy, Huberty’s widow, Etna, announced last month that she plans to sell her story to whatever newspaper was prepared to pay her the most money. Such an account would doubtless act as a painful reminder for a town that would prefer to forget.

ANN WALMSLEY

Robert Blair Kaiser