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Public Safety

Survivor Of San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre Shares His Story

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Thirty years ago, Alberto Leos was a 16-year-old employee at the McDonald's in San Ysidro when a mentally disturbed gunman opened fire, killing 21 people and wounding 19 others.

Leos, who was among the wounded, spoke Tuesday as the San Diego City Council marked the anniversary of the massacre. The events he witnessed that day changed his life, he said, and inspired him to become a San Diego police officer.

On July 18, 1984, James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old unemployed security guard, went into the fast-food restaurant on West San Ysidro Boulevard armed with an Uzi automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol and began firing. He was eventually killed by a police sharpshooter.

In a tweet, Councilman David Alvarez posts a photo of San Diego police officers alongside Alberto Leos, who survived a massacre at McDonald's that killed 21 people in 1984 and now serves as a lieutenant with the law enforcement agency, July 15, 2014.

Leos said he saw children and mothers shot and killed. He and a few co-workers hid in the back of the eatery, but Huberty found them about 20 minutes after the shooting started, Leos said.

"He ended up killing them in front of me, and I was wounded," Leos told the council members. "The hardest part for the last 30 years was living with the fact that I couldn't do anything to help them. I was in a position where I didn't have any kind of weapons to defend myself — to help them."

Despite five bullet wounds, he managed to crawl downstairs and hid in a closet, where he used his shoelaces as tourniquets for his bleeding arms and legs. Leos said the pain was so bad he bit into a cloth so Huberty wouldn't hear him.

"Not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing what the future was going to be, I was very distraught. I was very dizzy from all the blood loss," Leos said. "So I said a quick prayer, and this is what the prayer was — God, give me the strength to get through this to see my family one more time. If you keep me here and give me a second chance at life, I'm going to do something good with my life."

He said it took four years to heal physically, mentally and emotionally, though he still suffers "on occasion." The community helped his family get through the long recovery, and he likes to give back, he said.

Leos said he joined a small law enforcement agency while he finished school and has been with the San Diego police for 20 years. He's now a lieutenant in charge of recruiting.

"I'm doing the best that I can," Leos said. "I think I've come a long way, and I'm not done yet."

The lieutenant received a standing ovation from the council members, staff and audience.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said Leos' story showed "something very positive" came out of the tragedy.

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