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McDonald's Massacre : Time Can't Heal All Wounds Inflicted by 21 Slayings : Crime: San Ysidro lost its innocence in the violence 10 years ago. Survivors cope in different ways.

July 17, 1994|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS and ERNEST SANDER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. — The image has come to epitomize that hot, sunny afternoon 10 years ago, when a 41-year-old unemployed father of two named James Oliver Huberty walked into a McDonald's and began shooting.

Three boys--two of them dead--lie sprawled on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, their bodies full of lead, their bikes fallen over their feet.

The surviving boy is a man now. Joshua Coleman is 21 years old, a mustachioed ironworker who helps build highway bridges and high rises.

The shadow of July 18, 1984--and of the 21 adults and children who died in Huberty's rampage--haunts many who were there that day. But Coleman insists that he is not among them.

"I know exactly the day it happened and I think of my friends every time," he said.

"As far as feeling sorry for myself or anybody, I can't let that stop my life. Nothing bothers me. Death doesn't bother me."

He remembers it well: He and his two buddies, Omar Hernandez and David Flores, had gone to buy some doughnuts. But Joshua wanted ice cream, too, so they tooled their bicycles over to McDonald's.

They were on the sidewalk when 11-year-old Joshua heard the man yell. He turned and was shot.

Lying on the broiling pavement, his right side riddled with shotgun pellets, his pals nearby and the gunman still shooting, Joshua had the presence of mind to play dead.

How?

"I don't know," he said.

"I got lucky. The fact he kept shooting at us. . . . You hear about an accident and sometimes you think, 'What would you do if you were there?' And I always thought I would play dead."

Huberty's paroxysm ended after an hour and 17 minutes, when he was killed by a police sharpshooter. In the aftermath, Joshua Coleman's parents enrolled him at a new school for a year to avoid scrutiny.

He never saw a therapist. Neither he nor his parents believed he needed it.

He still keeps a big shoe box of letters from the hundreds of people who saw the picture of him lying on the ground.

"You have a lot of courage," they say. And "Be strong."

*

He could have been a hero. If he hadn't run, maybe--just maybe--Ken Dickey, a 20-year-old college student working behind the McDonald's counter, could have saved somebody's life.

"I remember sitting in a chair for a long time, for days afterwards, and thinking, 'What could I have done?'

"I could easily have grabbed a metal object and bashed this guy across the head. That would have been the hero's route. I didn't feel I showed grace under pressure. I ran to a room in fear, hoping I didn't get shot."

When the shooting started, Dickey and a male co-worker fled to a basement utility room. Later, three female workers joined them. Eventually, a woman with a baby came down, and then a bleeding man.

They huddled in the hot, stale basement with gunfire sounding overhead. Finally, police knocked at the door and, though they were fearful, they opened it.

Officers told them to put their hand on the shoulder of the person ahead, and to look only at the wall to their left as they exited. He remembers seeing the spatters of blood.

Today, Dickey lives in the small town of Payette, Idaho, with his wife and their 2-year-old daughter. He teaches high school chemistry. He comes back to the San Diego area only to visit his parents.

"Sometimes I go four or five months and I don't think of it at all," he said.

*

For years, Aurora Pena-Rivera couldn't talk about it.

About being shot in the jaw. About losing two friends and an aunt and a baby cousin. About them lying dead around her.

Simple things would trigger awful memories. "I remember I went to a restaurant and this man was drunk and he was yelling. He got mad with one of the waiters, and I just broke down. I thought about that other man."

Therapy made things worse.

No more doctors, she told her mother. On her own, she learned to accept the loss, the guilt, the unanswered questions.

"Before I used to ask, 'Why did it happen and why us?' I would say, 'Why her? Why the baby? She doesn't have any sins.'

"But now I see that I'm just being selfish. If it didn't happen to us, it would have happened to someone else."

Aurora was 11. Her aunt wanted a fish sandwich. The group of six relatives and friends was standing at the counter when Huberty walked in; four died.

Aurora lay on the restaurant floor, her eyes closed tight, afraid to look. Then, like all kids, she got curious.

"I thought I heard him far away, so I opened my eyes and he saw me. He walked to the trash can and he had some (guns) in there. He got his shotgun.

"That's when he shot me."

Now, Aurora is 21 and has a 9-month-old girl. An administrative assistant for the Navy, she has nieces and nephews who ask about the scars on her leg. Sometimes, she gets annoyed. She tells them she fell.

Just the other day, at a K mart, Aurora saw Adelina Hernandez, mother of Joshua Coleman's friend Omar.

"She hugged me and kissed me and asked me how I was doing. I told her I got married and she's like, 'You got married already?'

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