James Huberty McDonald's Massacre 25 Years Ago Changed Policing
The James Huberty McDonald's massacre in San Ysidro, 25 years ago this month, changed modern policing forever, and during this milestone anniversary, the police that were involved reflect on that fateful day, and how it shaped modern-day crime over the past quarter century.
It was July 18, 1984, when James Huberty walked in to a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, with the intent to kill somebody. At 3:40 pm, he carried a long-barreled Uzi semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun in to the San Diego restaurant and started shooting anyone immediately. He kept on for 77 minutes when a police sniper shot him from a nearby rooftop. He had already killed 21 people however, including grandmothers, children and employees. Nineteen other people were wounded.
San Diego police Capt. Miguel Rosario, a patrol officer back then, was the first cop on the scene, believing he was responding to a single accidental shooting.
Carrying a standard-issue .38-caliber revolver with six bullets, the Marine Corps veteran was in for the fight of his life against a much-better-armed opponent.
"Talk about feeling inadequate," Rosario said. "He's got an Uzi, I've got a .38, and I'm thinking it's a robbery gone bad and his buddies are going to encircle me."
Rosario later was a key member in allowing officers to carry more weapons and get better training to stop such violent crimes.
Rosario saw James Huberty in the restaurant, and Huberty started firing at him.
"I wouldn't have minded taking him on one-on-one," Rosario said in his transplanted South Bronx accent. "But if he had buddies in there and they had shoulder arms, I would have been in a world of hurt."
Huberty was firing armor-piercing ammunition at Rosario, who called for a SWAT team and then called a Code 11, which means 'send everybody'.
Rosairo could not get a clear shot of Huberty however, even with the added cover from the other officers.
Reporter Monica Zech had a bird's-eye view of the scene. She was giving traffic reports from a small airplane for local TV and radio stations.
"I looked down and could see that there was people ducking for cover, and there was a fire truck there with everybody behind it," she recalled. She saw two boys lying on the ground, tangled in their bicycles after being shot by Huberty, and people hiding behind the low walls of the restaurant's playground.
Eventually, Chuck Foster, fired from a nearby rooftop and hit Huberty in the chest, killing him. But this was a lesson for the police; they needed more firepower and more training.
"The time had come where you had to have a full-time, committed and dedicated, highly trained, well-equipped team ... that were committed to shooting, being in shape and being able to respond rapidly anywhere in the city,"
It was after the San Ysidro massacre that special units were formed inside the police department; units that were specialists in various tactics and training.
After the McDonald's massacre, many other police departments came to San Ysidro for help and counseling was provided for all officers involved for the first time.
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San Diego, California, United States