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San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre — 35 Years Later

Pictures and flowers are placed at a memorial to victims of the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, July 18, 2019.
John Carroll
Pictures and flowers are placed at a memorial to victims of the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, July 18, 2019.

In San Ysidro on Thursday, there was a special gathering to remember a nightmare in San Diego history.

It was July 18, 1984, late in the afternoon on a Wednesday when some lives in the McDonald’s on San Ysidro Boulevard would be swept away, others forever changed when a man walked in and opened fire.

San Ysidro McDonald’s Massacre — 35 Years Later
Listen to this story by John Carroll

When it was all over, 21 people, from 8-months to 74-years old were dead, 19 were wounded.

The 77-minute long incident ended after a San Diego Police sniper fired one shot, hitting the gunman in the chest, killing him on the spot.

Southwestern College’s Higher Education Center now sits where the McDonald’s once was.

VIDEO: San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre — 35 Years Later

Inside the Center, a series of speakers, some that were there that fateful day, remembered the tragedy through personal stories, poetry and art created by Southwestern students.

Pictures of newspaper coverage held frozen moments from what was at that time the worst mass shooting in American history. But those were temporary displays.

Outside, in front of the building sits the permanent memorial.

A plaque anchors a monument featuring 21-hexagonal pillars, one for every one of the victims who were killed, including 11-year old David Flores.

David's younger brother Guillermo was at the memorial for the anniversary event.

"He would have said this is nice, thank you," Guillermo Flores said .

People gather at Southwestern College's Higher Education Center for memorial for victims of San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, July 18, 2019.
John Carroll
People gather at Southwestern College's Higher Education Center for memorial for victims of San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, July 18, 2019.

Today, “Memo” Flores is 47. He was in LA that day, but would soon learn that his brother had been with 2 friends. They rode their bikes to the McDonald’s just down the hill from where they lived.

They never even made it inside, the murderer shot them down in the parking lot. David and one of his friends died where they were shot. The occasion brought some advice for parents from Memo Flores.

"Teach them that life is finite. Appreciate what you’ve got. Say I love you to your Mom, give her a hug or your Dad," Flores said.

San Diego Fire Battalion Chief David Connor was there that day as well. He was 22 years old and had only been a firefighter for 10-months.

After someone told him and his crew that people had been shot at the McDonald’s, they headed to the scene. They knew it was very serious within seconds of pulling up.

"The gunfire towards the fire engine began. There were skipping bullets into the fire engine. He hit the fire engine several times... We were hiding behind the engine, we were hiding behind the wheels, we were hiding behind compartments that were loaded with lots of equipment, anything we could," Connor recalled.

One of his fellow firefighters was hit, but the bullet bounced off his gear.

San Diego Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief David Connor talks with Memo Flores who lost his brother in the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, Jul 18, 2019.
John Carroll
San Diego Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief David Connor talks with Memo Flores who lost his brother in the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre, Jul 18, 2019.

In the days following the tragedy, news came that the McDonald’s restaurant would re-open. That hit neighbor Gloria Salas harD and she began a crusade. Salas and friends eventually gathering more than 10-thousand signatures demanding the restaurant be closed.

Then one day, while protesting outside the McDonald’s, a woman walked up to Salas with a message. The woman was Joan Kroc, the wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

"The property is gonna give to you guys in the community, so it’s yours," Salas said Kroc told her.

Years later, Southwestern College would build their Higher Education Center on the site.

"Although it was tragic, it doesn’t lay as a tragedy. It’s built on this future they have here," Connor said.

Thursday's event was called "Turning Tragedy Into Triumph," and it was held in a building where thousands of students have graduated over the years, silver linings of an unspeakable tragedy that will never be forgotten.

The Department of Homeland Security is giving conflicting messages whether its own policies has led asylum-seekers to cross the border illegally. Plus, San Ysidro remembers the victims of a shooting massacre at a McDonald’s 35 years on and the Del Mar Racetrack mourns the loss of two horses after a ‘freak collision.’ Also ahead on today’s podcast: learn how San Diego scientists are using wave machines for climate research.