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26 years later .. victims still scarred by the girl killer who said 'I just don't like Mondays' EXCLUSIVE: FEARS AS BRENDA SPENCER GOES UP FOR PAROLE.

Byline: DAVID EDWARDS

ON a chilly Monday morning in January 1979, bored US schoolgirl Brenda Spencer picked up a .22 calibre rifle and took aim at the playground opposite her home.

Squeezing the trigger, she started picking off pupils of Grover Cleveland Elementary School one by one in a 15-minute killing spree.

She shot dead two teachers, seriously injured eight children and wounded a policeman.

When asked why she did it, the 16-year-old replied: "I just did it for the fun of it. I just don't like Mondays."

Those brutally casual words, the atrocity of her actions and the senseless loss of life at the school near San Diego, California, shocked the world.

Brenda's "explanation" inspired Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers of Irish punk band the Boomtown Rats to write I Don't Like Mondays. It was No.1 in more than 30 countries, but was never heard in the States. An outraged nation banned it.

The subject was too raw then and even today it has left deep scars.

Apart from the emotional trauma of the victims' families and the survivors, Brenda's assault on a defenceless school was the first of a sinister trend in the States - at Columbine, Springfield and Jonesboro, children killed other children.

Understandably, there is a mixed reaction to the news that she is now up for parole for the fourth time.

While she battles to be freed from the California Institution for Women, others are fighting just as hard to make sure she stays behind bars. Kathe Wragg, whose husband Burton was killed by Brenda, says: "I'd never feel trustworthy of a person like that. Just the idea that she felt she had to kill somebody. I would never want her to be out. I have not seen any remorse."

Sentiments no doubt shared by Monika Selvig, who was shot in the abdomen, and Matthew Hardy, who witnessed the horror and whose sister was shot in the wrist.

Now 42, Brenda is unrecognisable from the gawky adolescent sentenced to life, 25 years ago. She has been a model inmate, graduating and taking courses in electronics.

A T A parole hearing in 2001, she claimed she had been high on drugs and alcohol during the shooting.

Her statement said: "I know saying sorry doesn't make it all right. With every school shooting, I feel I'm partially responsible. What if they got the idea from what I did?

"I live with the unbearable pain every day of knowing that I was responsible for the death of two people and caused many others physical and emotional pain and suffering. But I'm not a murderer."

Brenda said she'd had hallucinations and thought she was shooting at commandos storming her house. She also claimed the killings were sparked by being abused by her dad.

Her father, Wallace, still lives in the house on Lake Atlin Avenue from where Brenda took aim at the playground opposite. It was 26 years ago today, but those horrific events are still fresh in the minds of the survivors.

At 8.40am, nine-year-old Christy Buell was in the playground with her classmate Cam Miller. Principal Burton Wragg, 53, was in the office with teacher Daryl Barnes.

Then all hell broke loose.

There were several loud bangs and Burton rushed outside. Daryl followed to find the principal face up in a bush, a red stain spreading across his shirt. Nearby, children cowered as a volley of gunshots ricocheted off the tarmac.

Christy, who was shot in the stomach and buttocks, recalls: "It felt like my whole body was falling asleep, like pinpricks all over. We heard someone shouting, 'Run! Run!' so I crawled up the pathway to the speech room. A teacher heard me crying and pulled me in as two more bullets whizzed overhead into the door. She saved my life."

Cam was shot in the back - targeted because his bodywarmer was blue, Brenda's favourite colour.

Daryl grabbed two kids and raced inside, yelling at the secretary to call the police, before venturing back out to get a girl who'd been shot. Then he saw caretaker Mike Suchar, 56.

"Before I could scream a warning, he spun," says Daryl. "I heard him say, 'My God, I've been hit' before he fell. Then a car load of children came up and I was screaming, 'Get the car out of here, get out!'" Brenda continued lining up targets, laughing to herself as white feathers exploded from the children's padded coats.

Just before 9am, the first police car pulled up at her dad's ranch-style home in Lake Atlin Avenue and she turned her attention on them.

Officer Robert Robb, 30, was struck in the neck and was left lying in a pool of blood in the road. The senseless slaughter only stopped when police used a passing dumper truck to block her line of fire.

As they negotiated with loudhailers for Brenda to surrender, a reporter from the San Diego Evening Tribune called her home.

S HE told him, "I just started shooting. I just did it for the fun of it. I just don't like Mondays. Do you like Mondays?

"I did this because it's a way to cheer up the day. Nobody likes Mondays. This livens up the day."

Asked if she had any specific targets, she said: "No one in particular. I have to go now. I shot a pig [policeman], I think, and I want to shoot some more."

At 3pm she gave herself up, emerging from the house and putting her gun on the lawn.

Watching a newsflash from his bed in nearby Alvarado Hospital, Cam Miller got his first look at the person who'd shot him. He saw police leading away a freckled-face girl with long red hair and aviator sunglasses.

Police found 200 rounds of ammunition in the house and 40 used shells. The gun, they discovered, was a Christmas present from her father.

In the nine months before Brenda pleaded guilty to two counts of murder one, eight counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and one of assault on a police officer, disturbing details of her life began to emerge. Children in her well-to-do neighbourhood said she would torture cats by setting fire to their tails. And it turned out that a year before the shootings, she had been planning a murder with a friend.

Deputy District Attorney Andrea Crisanti reveals: "They decided they wanted to kill a cop, to see what that would feel like.

"Their first plan was to go up to a policeman in a patrol car. Brenda would go to the window and distract him and the friend would shoot him.

"Then they decided to lure him into a public restroom and swing an axe and kill him there. This is the mind-set of Brenda Spencer."

Christy Buell's stomach still bears a foot-long scar from the two operations to save her life. The emotional scars haven't healed either.

Her memories of that morning are a nightmarish collage - the principal falling back into the bush, doctors cutting off her bloody Winnie The Pooh shirt, and being too scared to open her eyes until her father arrived at the hospital.

Now a teacher at a pre-school in the same town, Christy has even mentally rehearsed what she would do if another Brenda Spencer opened fire on the playground. She says, "I've often had visions of it happening here and think about what I'd do if it happened again."

Yet she is one of the few survivors who believes Brenda has served her time and should be freed.

Cleveland Elementary School was closed years ago. But a flagpole still stands on the edge of the playground, a brass plaque at its base remembering the two men who died "in the service of helping others".

Poignantly, two trees planted in their memory now tower over the silent playground like sentries.

CAPTION(S):

MODEL PRISONER: Brenda in 1996; ABOVE: Bob Geldof in 1979 LEFT: (L_-R) Matthew Hardy, widow Kathe Wragg and Monika Selvig; Sniper in shackles; Brenda is cuffed and taken from the scene of carnage
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 29, 2005
Words:1347
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