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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

"And my mom goes, 'Well, she's 21. She's the same age. . . .' She (Mrs. Hernandez) goes, 'Oh, yeah, he would have been 21 too.'

Adelina Hernandez is still surrounded by children--she works at Sunset Elementary, the school Omar attended. The children remind her of him.

"It's good therapy," she said. "It's my medicine."

The exuberance and vitality of the children who call her "Grandma" help Omar's mother each day. They help her forget the sight of her lifeless little boy, and of the hard days that followed.

These days, the feelings are not so intense. She rarely gets depressed.

But when it becomes unbearable, Hernandez, 63, finds comfort in a cassette tape she and Omar made when he was 9.

Alternately playing the roles of reporter and interviewee, they ask each other simple questions in Spanish: "What is your name?" "Where do you go to school?"

Tears clouding her eyes, Hernandez said: "It's hard for a mom."

*

There were death threats. Etna Huberty's young daughters were taunted at school, and they moved twice within a year of the shootings.

Today, at age 52, she lives with her two grown daughters in the working-class community of Spring Valley, 20 miles east of San Ysidro. Her home is a brown trailer on a quiet street. Broken-down cars and trucks clutter the driveway, next to an unkempt front yard.

Etna Huberty filed an unsuccessful $5-million lawsuit against McDonald's, alleging that her husband's rampage was triggered in part by too many Chicken McNuggets.

And she tried to sell her story to a Hollywood producer. But the public outcry was so strong, the project was dropped.

Etna Huberty has graying hair, cropped short. Her face is drawn; her expression one of agitated exhaustion.

She works as an in-home nurse. She told a reporter in late June she hadn't yet paid her rent. She was willing to do an interview for $400, she said. (The reporter declined; paying for interviews violates Associated Press policy.)

Daughter Zelia was 14 at the time of the shootings, Cassandra 10. They had gone to school with many of their father's victims. After the shootings, they changed schools, enrolling under assumed names.

"They're surviving," said Etna Huberty's friend, Ann Ruiz.

Two days after the shootings, Etna Huberty apologized for her husband.

"Everyone is wondering why he would do such a thing," she said in a statement. "He was always very sad and lonely."

Huberty and his wife moved to San Diego just seven months before, after he lost his job as a welder in Massillon, Ohio.

In San Diego, Huberty worked as a security guard. A week before the shootings, he was fired because of "a general instability . . . plus the fact that he was not performing his duties in a proper manner."

Huberty was a loner, those who knew him say. He could be a troublemaker. He became loud and abusive to neighbors during a dispute. He let his two German shepherds run loose. He liked guns. He was something of a survivalist.

Co-workers just laughed at him, a former boss said.

On July 17, he called a local mental health clinic asking for an appointment. A receptionist took his name, but he never got a call back.

On the morning of July 18, Huberty went to court to plead guilty to two traffic infractions. He and his wife and a daughter then ate at the McDonald's across from the courthouse, miles north of their apartment. Afterward, they went to the zoo.

They got home just before 4 p.m. Huberty kissed his wife goodby (she would later tell police that was unusual). Then, he told her he was going to hunt people--just one of the crazy things he was always saying, she figured.

Huberty loaded his guns, got in his car, drove a block and parked. Toting an Uzi, a semiautomatic pistol and a shotgun, he strode to the McDonald's; 257 rounds later, he was dead.

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