Cleveland School massacre

Cleveland School massacre
Location Stockton, California, USA
Date Tuesday, January 17, 1989
11:59 a.m. – 12:02 p.m. (PST)
Target Students and faculty at Cleveland Elementary School
Attack type School shooting, mass murder, murder-suicide, massacre, suicide attack
Weapon(s) Type 56 semi-automatic rifle
Taurus 9mm pistol
Death(s) 6 (including the perpetrator)
Injured 30[1]
Perpetrator(s) Patrick Purdy

The Cleveland School massacre (also known as the Stockton schoolyard shooting) occurred on January 17, 1989, at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, United States. The gunman, Patrick Purdy, who had a long criminal history, shot and killed five schoolchildren, and wounded 29 other schoolchildren and one teacher, before committing suicide. His victims were predominantly Southeast Asian refugees.


The shooting

Victim Fatalities
1. Rathanar Or, age 9
2. Ram Chun, age 8
3. Sokhim An, age 6
4. Oeun Lim, age 8
5. Thuy Tran, age 6

On the morning of January 17, 1989, an anonymous person phoned the Stockton Police Department and warned of a death threat against Cleveland Elementary School. At noon that day, Patrick Purdy, a disturbed drifter and former Stockton resident, began his attack by setting his Chevrolet van alight after parking it behind the school. He then moved to the school playground and began firing with an AK-47 from behind a portable building. Purdy fired more than 100 rounds in three minutes killing five children and wounding thirty others including one teacher.[2]
All of the fatally shot victims and many of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants.[3] Purdy then took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a pistol.[1] Purdy had carved the words "freedom", "victory", "Earthman", and "Hezbollah" on his rifle, and his flak jacket read "PLO", "Libya", and "death to the Great Satin" [sic].


Patrick Purdy

The perpetrator of the shooting, Patrick Edward Purdy (10 November 1964 – 17 January 1989), was an unemployed former welder and drifter. Purdy was born in Tacoma, Washington to Patrick Benjamin Purdy and Kathleen Toscano. His father was a soldier in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis at the time of his son's birth. When Patrick was two years old, his mother filed for divorce against her husband after he had threatened to kill her with a firearm. Kathleen later moved with her son to South Lake Tahoe and later to Stockton, California.[4] He attended Cleveland Elementary School from kindergarten through second grade.[4][5]

Patrick's mother remarried in September 1969, though was again divorced four years later. Albert Gulart, Sr., Purdy's stepfather, said Patrick was an overly quiet child who cried often. In fall 1973, Kathleen separated from Gulart and moved with her children from Stockton to the Sacramento area. In December of that year, the Sacramento Child Protective Services were twice called to her residence, alleging Kathleen was physically abusing her children.[6] When Purdy was thirteen, he once struck his mother in the face and therefore was permanently banned from her house.[7] He began living on the streets of San Francisco for a while, before being placed in foster care by authorities.[6] He was later placed in the custody of his father living in Lodi, California.[7] While attending Lodi High School, he became an alcoholic and a drug addict, and attended high school sporadically.[2][4]

On 13 September 1981, Purdy's father was killed after being struck by a car.[7] His family filed a wrongful-death suit in San Joaquin Superior Court against the driver of the car, asking for $600,000 in damages, although the suit was later dismissed. Purdy also accused his mother of taking money his father had left him, using the money to buy a car and taking a vacation to New York City, an incident that deepened the animosities between them.[8][9]
After his father's death, Purdy was briefly rendered homeless, before being placed in the custody of a foster mother in Los Angeles.[6]

Purdy had a long criminal history, which began during early adolescence. First police records of Purdy date back to 1977, when Sacramento police confiscated BB guns from then 12-year-old Purdy.[6] In June 1980, Purdy was first arrested at age 15 for violating a court-order.[7] He was arrested in the same month for underage drinking. He was later arrested for homosexual prostitution in August 1980,[10][11] possession of marijuana and drug dealing in 1982, and in 1983 for possession of an illegal weapon and receipt of stolen property. On 11 October 1984, he was arrested for being an accomplice in an armed robbery at a service station, for which he spent 32 days in the Yolo County Jail. In 1986 his mother called police when he vandalized her car, after she refused to give him money for narcotics.[4][12]

In April 1987, he and his half-brother Albert were arrested for firing a semi-automatic pistol at trees in the Eldorado National Forest. At the time, he was carrying a book about the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, and told the County Sheriff that it was his "duty to help the suppressed and overthrow the suppressor."[13] Later in prison he attempted suicide twice, once by hanging himself with a rope made out of strips of his shirt, and a second time by cutting his wrists with his fingernails. A subsequent psychiatric assessment found him to suffer from very mild mental retardation, and to be a danger to himself and others.[13]

In the fall of 1987, he began attending welding classes at San Joaquin Delta College and complained about the high percentage of Southeast Asian students there. In October 1987, he left California and drifted between Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Tennessee searching for work. In early 1988 he worked at Numeri Tech, a small machine shop located in Stockton, and from July to October as a boilermaker in Portland, Oregon, living in Sandy with his aunt. He also purchased the Chinese-made AK-47 derivative used in the shooting there on August 3.[14] He eventually returned to California where he rented a room at the El Rancho Motel in Stockton on December 26. After the shooting the room was found decorated with numerous toy soldiers.[2][4][8]

Police stated that Purdy had problems with alcohol and drug addiction. He was said to have been a misanthrope, and his hatred was especially directed against Asian immigrants,[13] believing that they took jobs from native-born Americans.[9][15]

According to his friends, who described him as friendly and never violent towards anyone, Purdy was suicidal at times and frustrated about the fact that he failed to "make it on his own".[13] Steve Sloan, a night-shift supervisor at Numeri Tech, stated that "He was a real ball of frustration, and was angry about everything." Another one of Purdy's former co-workers stated, "He was always miserable. I've never seen a guy that didn't want to smile as much as he didn't."[13] In a notebook found in a hotel where he lived in early 1988, Purdy wrote about himself through a self-loathing perspective: "I'm so dumb, I'm dumber than a sixth-grader. My mother and father were dumb."[4]


The multiple murders at Stockton received national news coverage and spurred calls for regulation of semi-automatic weapons. "Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?" Time magazine asked. They continued, "The easy availability of weapons like this, which have no purpose other than killing human beings, can all too readily turn the delusions of sick gunmen into tragic nightmares."[1] Purdy was able to purchase the weapons because the judicial system had not convicted him of any crime that prevented him from purchasing firearms. Neither had Purdy been adjudicated mentally ill, another disqualifying factor.

In California, measures were taken to first define and then ban assault weapons, resulting in the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Act. On the Federal level, Congress struggled with a way to ban weapons like Purdy's aesthetically military-style rifle without being seen to also ban more sporting-looking rifles. No evidence was reported at this time however as to how a firearm looking "military style" was any more dangerous than a firearm looking "sporting style". These were banned in the Federal assault weapons ban, enacted in 1994, which expired in 2004. Later in 1989, President George H. W. Bush signed an executive order (the Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Ban) banning importation of assault weapons in 1989. President Bill Clinton signed another executive order in 1994 which banned importation of most firearms and ammunition from China.[16]

See also

  • List of massacres in California


  1. ^ a b c Slaughter in A School Yard, Time Magazine, (January 30, 1989)
  2. ^ a b c Schoolyard gunman called a troubled drifter, The Deseret News (January 18, 1989)
  3. ^ Jay Mathews, Matt Lait, "Rifleman slays five at school", Washington Post, Jan, 18, 1989, pg. A1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f From quiet, unhappy child to mass killer, San Jose Mercury News (January 19, 1989)
  5. ^ Gunman Had Attended School He Assaulted But Motive Remains Unclear in Attack, Loas Angeles Times (January 19, 1989)
  6. ^ a b c d Patrick Purdy recalled as a 'sick sick man'
  7. ^ a b c d Under Fire, Osha Gray Davidson
  8. ^ a b Troubled drifter erupted, became killer, The Deseret News (January 22, 1989)
  9. ^ a b "Man who never smiled" resented the Vietnamese, San Jose Mercury News (January 19, 1989)
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Toy soldiers, Middle-East fantasies, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (January 19, 1989)
  13. ^ a b c d e Gunman "hated Vietnamese", The Prescott Courier (January 19, 1989)
  14. ^ Weapon Used by Deranged Man Is Easy to Buy, The New York Times (January 19, 1989)
  15. ^ Warped killers share mental problems, The Prescott Courier (January 20, 1989)
  16. ^ National Institute of Justice Brief — PDF file

External links

Coordinates: 37°58′56″N 121°18′03″W / 37.98222°N 121.30083°W / 37.98222; -121.30083

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