By Barbara Zaragoza
On a busy afternoon in 1984, a white man entered a McDonalds and for 77 minutes shot and then re-shot customers and employees. 21 people died and 19 were wounded. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in United States history.
That very day, the killer had been up in Clairemont Mesa arguing to a judge against a parking ticket. He then ate at a McDonald’s without incident. Originally from Ohio, the shooter had moved to Tijuana, but lost his job there and then came to San Ysidro and worked as a security guard.
Notice how I refuse to say the name of the killer. Charlie Minn, director of a new documentary about the McDonald’s Massacre in San Ysidro, also refuses to pay much attention to that individual. A filmmaker known for telling gut-wrenching stories— including Murder Capital of the World and Es El Chapo?—Minn began interviews for the San Ysidro film last May 2016. He focused on the victims and their lingering pain even after thirty years.
San Ysidro McDonalds Massacre: A Hate Crime
On Thursday, September 22nd and Friday, September 23rd Minn gave a pre-screening of the film, very appropriately, at The Front Art Gallery in the heart of San Ysidro. Often gruesome to watch, the documentary presents footage taken by the police immediately after the shootings: a young boy shot and lying bleeding on the ground next to his bike. An 8-month-old baby with a chest wound, lifeless on the restaurant floor.
The horrifying images interweave with interviews from the victims. A woman—who lives in Mexico today—still bears the scars: a glass eye and a gash across her entire belly. She is unable to sleep more than five hours because of her physical ailments. That day, the gunman also shot her 18-month-old daughter in the head. Her daughter survived, but many other children did not.
Television anchor Carlos Amezcua explains that after the shooting, he received a call at the TV station from the gunman’s wife. She wanted to let Amezcua know her husband hated immigrants, especially Mexicans.
Did the SDPD Make Mistakes?
Minn doesn’t just place blame on the gunman, but also asks police officers and SWAT team members why it took so long for them to get to take down the killer. The police, at first, went to the wrong McDonald’s. Once at the correct McDonald’s, the SWAT team stood around, rather than storming the building, not realizing the extent of the mayhem inside. Some say that so much time went by, a few victims bled to death although they could have been saved. Minn also interviewed former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders who at the time was commander of the SWAT team. Minn asked hard questions about whether the SDPD could have done a better job.
At The Front’s pre-screening, Executive Director Lisa Cuestas explained that Casa Familiar, the only non-profit organization in San Ysidro at that time, provided help the victims with funds and other support.
The Victims Have Names
Charlie Minn gave a Q&A session after each screening. When asked if he would have contacted the shooter’s wife if she was still alive, he said: “Probably not. I’ll admit, we put a lot more info about the killer at the end. The fact that I didn’t mention his name is telling, but I felt that the audience needed a little bit. A little. So I did the bare minimum on him.”
The film notes that the shooter’s wife sued McDonalds for five million dollars, claiming the food caused her husband to commit the mass shooting.
She lost the lawsuit.
Minn said about this documentary, the only one ever made about the McDonald’s massacre in 30 years, “I think the film helps keep it [the memory] alive. It finally gives the victims a voice. The victims in this case have been viewed as statistics. If you ask the average San Diegan, ‘Can you name one victim out of the forty that were shot?’ I don’t think the average San Diegan can name one… This movie will keep it alive to a point where people will get to know the victims and have the killer completely ignored.”