January 17, 1989
Stockton, California
Patrick Purdy (24) visits the Cleveland Elementary School where he fires on students and teachers, killing 6 (including himself) and wounding 29

On the morning of January 17, the police department received an anonymous death threat against the Cleveland Elementary School. A few hours later, Purdy arrived at the school he had attended as a child, from kindergarten through third grade. He lit a pipe bomb which he tossed into his station wagon then proceeded toward the school’s courtyard. At the time, between 300 and 500 (sources vary) children between the ages of 6 and 9 were at recess. Purdy began to fire upon the children while he was some 200 feet (60 meters) away.

Patrick Purdy
LA County Sheriff’s Dept./AP Photo

One of the teachers at the school ran to the window when she heard what she believed were firecrackers, and saw a man in the courtyard with a rifle later determined to be an AK-47. “He was just standing there with a gun, making wide sweeps,” the teacher recounted. “He was not talking, he was not yelling, he was very straight-faced. It did not look like he was really angry; it was just matter-of-factly.”

He was not talking, he was not yelling, he was very straight-faced. It did not look like he was really angry; it was just matter-of-factly.

Purdy fired 105 rounds within 3 minutes before he shot himself in the temple. Five children were killed in the attack and another 29 people wounded, half of whom were critically injured. Only one of the injured victims was an adult. The slain children were Sokhim An (6), Thuy Tran (6), Ram Chun (8), Oeun Lim (8), and Rathanar Or (9).

Wirephotos of slain children
Top, left to right: Oeun Lim, Ram Chun
Bottom, left to right: Rathanar Or, Thuy Tran, Sokhim An
via Sactown Magazine

While Purdy had an “extensive criminal history” for various offenses including weapons violations, authorities had “no idea” of his possible motives.

In July of 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed a permanent ban on imported semi-automatic rifles, including AK-47s, partially in response to the mass shootings perpetrated by Purdy. The law expired in 2004.

Patrick Edward Purdy. California, U.S. Death Index, 1940-1997. Ancestry. Accessed: January 17, 2021. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=5180&h=5950410&tid=&pid=&queryId=58ff1473840c64626d5bd303da2baf3d&usePUB=true&_phsrc=BNf1&_phstart=successSource
“Cleveland School Shooting.” Cleveland School Remembers. Accessed: January 17, 2021. https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/stockton/need-to-know-the-1989-cleveland-school-shooting/103-bf6463b2-ce78-4ba1-9216-fc2c79907f82
Elving, Ron. “The U.S. Once Had A Ban On Assault Weapons — Why Did It Expire?” NPR. August 13, 2019. Accessed: January 16, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/13/750656174/the-u-s-once-had-a-ban-on-assault-weapons-why-did-it-expire
“Need to Know: The 1989 Cleveland School Shooting.” ABC 10. January 17, 2019. Accessed: January 16, 2021. https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/stockton/need-to-know-the-1989-cleveland-school-shooting/103-bf6463b2-ce78-4ba1-9216-fc2c79907f82
Emmons, Mark and Richman, Josh. “Stockton shooting: 25 years later, city can’t forget its worst day.” The Mercury News. January 16, 2014. Updated: August 12, 2016. Accessed: January 17, 2021. https://www.mercurynews.com/2014/01/16/stockton-shooting-25-years-later-city-cant-forget-its-worst-day/
“1989 Stockton School Shooting.” Sactown Magazine. December 12, 2013. Accessed: January 17, 2021. https://www.sactownmag.com/trigger-effect/
Newcomb, Alyssa. “Survivor of Notorious School Massacre Now Murder Suspect.” ABC News. December 4, 2013. Accessed: January 17, 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/US/survivor-notorious-school-massacre-now-murder-suspect/story?id=21097956
Rasky, Susan F. “Import Ban on Assault Rifles Becomes Permanent.” The New York Times. July 8, 1989
Yost, Paula. “Permanent Import Ban On Assault Rifles. The Washington Post. July 8, 1989
Foster, David. “Patrick Edward Purdy: Death comes home to play.” Mattoon Journal Gazette. January 27, 1989
“Schoolyard killer built walls around his emotions.” The Sioux City Journal. January 22, 1989
“Five Children Killed As Gunman Attacks A California School.” The New York Times. January 18, 1989

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