Early School Shooting
February 24, 1984: Tyrone Mitchell goes on a shooting spree. Mitchell was born in Montgomery County, Alabama in 1955. The family moved to South Central Los Angeles and the house he grew up in was razed in order to build the 49th Street Elementary School. Mitchell and his family were members of Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. Most of his family followed Jones to Jonestown in Guyana. In the mass murder-suicide that took place there, Mitchell’s parents, four sisters, and brother died. According to Mitchell’s fiancée, Marylou Hill, he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the deaths at Jonestown on November 18, 1978. Mitchell had been in town and not at the compound when the rest of his family drank the Kool-Aid.
Mitchell returned to South Central Los Angeles and rented a white Victorian house at 730 East 50th Street. He and Hill lived just 50 feet away from the school that now stood where his childhood home had once been. The house looked over the entire playground. Mitchell had a reputation in the area as a troubled man who had issues with narcotics, especially PCP. Hill denied he had “a problem” with the drug. On December 5, 1979 Mitchell argued with his landlord and uncle Willie Lee Mitchell, about who would light the pilot light on water heater. Tyrone fired three shots from a .30-caliber rifle into the air. When police arrived, he was arrested. He was fined $200 and put on two years’ probation.
Hill said Mitchell kept a high powered rifle in the house and often fired at passing airliners attempting to land at Los Angeles International Airport located five miles to the west. No one reported the shots out of fear of reprisals. On February 11, one of Mitchell’s uncles claimed Mitchell had pointed a machine gun at him but no arrest were made. On this day, at 2.23 PM, Mitchell fired into about 100 children from the 49th Street Elementary School as they came out onto the playground. He fired 39 rounds from an AR-15 rifle and 18 rounds from two shotguns. He was standing at a bay window just across the street from the school.
After the shooting stopped, police surrounded the house. Hill wanted to speak to Mitchell but police feared she would become a hostage. Just before 6 PM, after firing at least 16 canisters of tear gas into the house, a SWAT team entered and eventually found Mitchell upstairs, dead from a single 12 gauge shotgun wound to the head. Shala Eubanks, 10, died from injuries sustained later on this day. Carlos Lopez, 24, a jogger passing by at the wrong time, died on April 13 from injuries sustained. Anna Gonzales, 8, was seriously injured but survived. Iran Macias, 10, was also admitted to the hospital. Ten others were treated and released for various wounds. Mitchell’s motives remain unclear. Post-mortem toxicology studies found no narcotics in his blood stream. He did have a small amount of alcohol, but less than a third of the legal limit.
We pulled the kids, injured or not, into the ambulance. We just wanted to get them safe. We didn’t know what could happen. – Los Angeles Fire Department paramedic Jack Frye
The teachers were trying to get the kids out of the yard, to get them away from the school. The shooting was going on all the time. It just kept coming: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! – Dessi McClain, neighbor
The kids were screaming, but they were quickly brought into the school building by adults in the yard. When I first heard shooting I didn’t know what was going on. Then I saw dozens of kids down on the ground, but most of them weren’t hurt, they were just trying to hide. – Bea Ransome, the school’s office manager
I’m scared to go back to school. I don’t want to see the school. I’ll get bad memories. – Iran Marcias, weeks after the event
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Opera – In 1607, the first opera premiered.
Murder, She Wrote – In 1981, Jean Harris was convicted of murder.
Religious Persecution – In 303, the new sect, Christians, were the subject of a Roman edict.
Just Peachy – In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached.