January 17 1989 - 6 Killed and 32 Injured in the Cleveland Elementary School Shooting

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On January 17th, 1989, an alcoholic drifter opened fire at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California. Oddly enough, almost exactly 10 years earlier in 1979, there was another shooting at a Cleveland Elementary School, this on in San Diego, by a 16-year-old girl who claimed the she opened fire on the school because: "I don't like Mondays." Though the state and name of the school are the same, these are 2 completely separate incidents.

The shooter, Patrick Purdy, had an extensive criminal history before he murdered 5 children and wounded 32 other people, including a teacher. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the head on the scene.

Until Columbine in 1999, this was the most fatal non-college school shooting in the United States.


Patrick was an unemployed former welder and drifter. Though there is not extensive information on his childhood, his father was a U.S. soldier and his mom divorced him when he was 2 years old after he threatened to shoot her.

He attended Cleveland Elementary School from kindergarten to 2nd grade.

His mother remarried and divorced 4 years later, and his former step-dad said that he was very quiet and could be found crying a lot of the time. Once his mom was single again, Child Protective Services was called twice on her, claiming that she was abusing her children.

When he was 13, he hit his mom and she banned him from her home. He bounced between living on the streets of San Francisco and foster care. Once he was placed in his father's custody in high school, he became a drug addict and alcoholic.

His father died after being hit by a car, causing an irreconcilable argument between Patrick and his mother where he claimed she took the money that was supposed to be left for him. After his fallout with his mom and the death of his dad, he continued to bounce between homelessness and foster care.

Patrick had an extensive criminal history that included (but is likely not limited to): Underage drinking, prostitution, marijuana possession, drug dealing, possession of an illegal weapon, vandalization, firing semi-automatic weapons into a national forest, receipt of stolen property and armed robbery.

Once when he was caught, he was carrying books about white supremacy and spouted off some white supremacist ideologies. He hated Asian immigrants, believing they had taken jobs from "native-born Americans".

In prison, he attempted suicide twice, and a psychological evaluation turned up that he was mildly mentally retarded, and a danger to himself and others.

And yet, somehow he was able to get out, get a job, and legally purchase an AK-47. America.


On the morning of the shooting, the Stockton Police Department received an anonymous call with a death threat against the school.

He parked his car behind the school, filled with fireworks, where it later exploded... Though it seems like all of the fatalities and injuries were caused by the shooting and not the explosion.

He went to the playground, and began firing his semi-automatic rifle from behind one of the buildings. He fired 106 rounds total in 3 minutes, killing 5 elementary school shooting, wounding 31 students and 1 teacher. Most of the shots hit Cambodian or Vietnamese immigrants.

After taking the lives of 5 children, he shot himself in the head and died.

Even though this took place 31 years ago, similar conversations happened that are still happening now: How did an alcoholic with an extensive criminal history and a psych evaluation that revealed he was a danger to himself and others legally, and easily, obtain a gun that could fire 106 rounds in 3 minutes?

Legislation began shortly after in California, resulting in the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. Federally, it was a bit more difficult to ban military-style rifles. In 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was enacted but expired in 2004. Bill Clinton signed another executive order the in 1994 that banned the importation of most firearms and ammunition from China.

Though Columbine is largely viewed as the start of school shootings in America, and Sandy Hook may seem like the first to involve children, these events didn't occur for another 10 and 23 years respectively.

So, perhaps it isn't new violent video games or a fall from faith, but the ability for mentally disturbed individuals to get their hands on weapons that can shoot 100+ times in the length of an average song and murder 5 children as they play on the playground.

This conversation has been going on at least since 1989 and it doesn't feel like we've made it any further than we did 31 years ago. Hopefully, 2020 is better.



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