The Connecticut shootings force into our collective minds the day of the tragedy of the McDonalds Massacre of July 18, 1984.
Then-San Diego newscaster Monica Zech, was in a news channel helicopter that day of the massacre, and she was the first reporter to break the story. Later, as the El Cajon Fire Public Information Officer, Zech wrote the following personal thoughts of her observations from that horrific day. (Originally posted at OB Rag on June 2, 2008 – see the entire post here.)
San Ysidro McDonald Massacre-A Birdseye View
by Monica Zech, 2004
My thoughts: Remembering and reporting on the San Ysidro McDonald Massacre, where 21 people died, 19 were injured – 7/18/84.
It’s hard to imagine it was 20 years ago, on July 18th. I was part of major tragedy, a part of San Diego history. It was my first year of reporting news from the air (previously a ground reporter for about 10 years) as San Diego’s first female traffic reporter and first TV traffic reporter. But I was also the first reporter on scene, in the air at McDonalds. I broke the story – giving the first on scene broadcasts from there for several local radio and TV stations.
Being the first TV traffic reporter was quite a novelty back then … and this was also my first year of air traffic reporting. Back then we flew helicopter or fixed wing, (small plane) upon arriving on scene no one really knew what was happening by then. It was reported as a single sniper incident, someone being shot and stumbling into a post office. I was flying just minutes away by the Coronado bridge when we got the report from my producer, and continued south, I was in the area just minutes after that.
As I looked down with my binoculars I saw utter CHAOS … luckily we were in the plane that day flying high out of sniper range – since Huberty was still shooting. I saw a San Diego fire crew ducking for cover behind their fire rig. I immediately radioed back that there was something big happening here. Police were quickly shutting down streets. As I continued to circle I saw the traffic from the U.S. border crossing at San Ysidro was traveling behind McDonalds and in the line of fire – so I radioed this back to my producer who called and had them shut down the border crossing.
As I continued to circle the area I saw people hiding against the wall in the play area… and I saw the boys lying on the ground with their bicycles outside the doors to McDonalds. My reports to the TV & radio stations were non-stop until other ground reporters could get close to the area. (Other airborne units arrived 20 minutes later.) In my reports, I didn’t mention the people hiding in the playland area because we had heard the gunman may have a radio and was possibly listening to the radio broadcasts, so I didn’t want to put those hiding in more danger.
It was about an hour and 45 minutes as I then watched a San Diego Police sharp shooter fire the fatal shot that took Huberty down. I saw the officers rush the building, soon after the fire fighters and paramedics, jumping over the walls rushing to save those who could be saved.
As I flew out of area-I started hearing the reports of the carnage inside. That’s when it finally hit me, up until then I knew I had to report the scene and do my best to keep people safe and out of the area – that was my job and passion. I remember thinking I didn’t want any awards for this because people died, especially the children.
But it wasn’t long that I started hearing from residents in the area – “thanking me for saving their lives” … that they were headed down there, to that McDonalds or to that Post Office next door … and also thanks from those who were coming across the border at that time, but now stuck in traffic due to the closure. I remember the U.S. Border officials telling me, while on a tour, that traffic was backed up for miles that day, coming into the U.S., but it was strange that “no one honked or complained”, but that they could hear my voice coming through the car radios reporting the dangers just a short distance away. It was because of those comments, that a year later, I felt more comfortable in receiving a Golden Mile and two San Diego Press Clubs awards for those reports.
I remember that day very well … as tragic as it was, I was glad to help in some way in preventing the numbers of those killed or injured from being any higher than they already were.
I can also say it took me a few years before I was comfortable enough to walk into a fast food restaurant. But I still look over my shoulder.