Whenever someone is suffering from mental health problems, there are often warning signs. But when those warning signs go ignored, a problem that could be addressed and dealt with can turn into a terrible tragedy.
On a sunny, summer day in California, the customers of a McDonald’s restaurant would have the bad fortune of finding out just how bad things can get when a person’s mental health issues go untreated…
James Huberty was born in Canton, Ohio to Icle and Earl Huberty just about a year after the United States entered World War 2. When he was just 3 years old, Huberty contracted polio. Though he recovered, the disease left him with walking difficulties for the rest of his life.
In the early 1950’s Huberty’s father bought a farm in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. Though his mother also had strong religious beliefs, they weren’t the same as his father’s. She refused to live in Amish country, choosing instead to abandon her family to do sidewalk preaching for a Southern Baptist organization…
After he graduated from high school, Huberty would enroll at Malone College to study sociology before deciding to study at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. During his time at Malone, he met a woman named Etna Markland. They took a liking to each other and in 1965 they were married.
After Huberty got his embalming license, he and Etna moved to Canton, Ohio where Huberty got a job at a funeral home. On the surface, it seemed like things were going well for the couple but underneath, there was a troublesome situation growing…
Shortly after they married, Huberty’s behavior toward Etna became abusive. He would have violent fits of rage where Etna’s only hope of calming him down would be to pretend to read his future with tarot cards. When that didn’t work, he would hit her.
Nevertheless, they stayed together as a couple for years after they moved to Canton. Then, Huberty decided to leave the funeral business and become a welder. He and Etna moved 15 minutes away to Massillon, Ohio. There, they had two daughters Zelia and Cassandra…
Huberty also had some unusual beliefs. He believed in a number of fringe theories, such as an international banking conspiracy to bankrupt the nation by manipulating the Federal Reserve and seeing Soviet influence everywhere. Huberty thought the breakdown of society could come at any moment and prepared thoroughly to survive whatever may come.
Prepping for Disaster
Over the years, Huberty stocked his home with thousands of dollars worth of non-perishable food and stashed enough loaded firearms in his home that wherever he was sitting or standing, Huberty “could just reach over and get a gun,” according to a family friend…
Partially motivated by the idea that “the country wasn’t treating him right; that everything was being done against the working people,” Huberty moved his family to Tijuana, Mexico, in 1983 making sure to bring his gun arsenal with him. His wife and daughters loved their new home, becoming friendly with their neighbors. But Huberty’s, whose Spanish was terrible, was quiet and gloomy.
Back to the States
Less than three months later, The Huberteys moved back to the US, settling in San Diego, where Huberty began working as a security guard. Things were fairly calm for the next few months until in July 1984, approximately one week after he lost his security job, Huberty commented to his wife that he thought he might have a mental problem…
Calling for Help
Huberty truly did believe something was wrong because two days later, he called a mental health clinic and asked for an appointment. He was told by the receptionist that he would get a call back in a few hours. Huberty sat quietly by the phone for several hours waiting patiently until he abruptly walked out of the home and took off on his motorcycle.
Dropping the Ball
The receptionist had misspelled his name as “Shouberty” and because he was polite and calm on the phone, the call was logged as a “non-crisis” inquiry. They would never call back. About an hour after he left, Huberty came back in a pleasant mood, the calm before the storm…
Huberty and his family had a nice dinner together, biked to a nearby park, then came home whereafter the kids went to bed, Huberty and Etna watched a movie together. The next day, Huberty took the family to the zoo. As they walked around the park, Huberty told his wife that his life was over.
They Had Their Chance
Huberty said that “society had their chance,” when referring to the health clinic failing to get back to him. After they got home, Huberty approached his wife as she was lying in bed. He leaned down to her and said, “I want to kiss you goodbye.” When Etna asked where he was going, he said he was “going hunting humans”…
Armed To The Teeth
A few minutes later, just before 4pm, Huberty pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant just down the street from his home. He’d brought with him a semi-automatic handgun, an Uzi submachine gun, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a duffel bag filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for each weapon. On the hot summer afternoon, this McDonald’s was packed.
Huberty walked into the restaurant and aimed his shotgun at a teenaged employee. Another employee shouted a warning but when Huberty pulled the trigger, nothing happened. As he inspected the weapon, the manager approached him, thinking it was just some bad practical joke. A split second later, Huberty fired his shotgun toward the ceiling before aiming his uzi at the manager and shooting her in the head…
Immediately after shooting the manager, Huberty shot another employee with his shotgun and shouted at everyone in the store to get down on the ground. He went into a long, disjointed rant, calling everyone in the restaurant “dirty swines” and saying that he’d killed thousands and would “kill a thousand more.” When one customer tried to persuade him not to shoot anyone else, Huberty shot him 14 times, shouting at him to “shut up” over and over again.
Over the next few minutes, Huberty would kill a number of people inside the restaurant before police arrived. By the time they did, there were people wounded and dying outside the restaurant but Huberty had gone back inside. Because the restaurant windows had been shattered by gunfire, it was difficult for police to see inside, so they were unsure of the number of shooters…
At 5:17, a SWAT sniper on a perch across the street was finally able to get a clear shot on Huberty. Striking him with a single bullet in the chest, he was killed within seconds. After the 78 minute nightmare, Huberty had fired nearly 250 shots, ultimately killing 21 people and wounding 20 others, making it at the time the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Two years after the shooting incident, Etna sued McDonald’s and Babcock & Wilcox, the company where Huberty worked for 14 years as a welder, for $5 million. The suit claimed that her husband’s mental breakdown and the subsequent massacre was caused by the poisonous fumes Huberty had inhaled while welding combined with MSG in the food induced delusions and uncontrollable rage. The suit was unsuccessful.