Has it really been 25 years since the San Ysidro Massacre?

In the summer of 1984, I had just turned 18. I remember July 18th very well. I’d been spending the day with my friend Stacy by her pool in Bonita, recovering from a party we’d been to the night before. The party had been way out in the sticks in Bonsall and the drive home had been late and long.

At that party I had carefully avoided Tasha, a friend with whom I’d had a falling out. I remembered hearing that she’d left the party early because she had to work at her job the next day.

The sun finally getting to us, Stacy and I headed inside for a cold drink. Stacy’s mom was glued to the television. “Girls, you’re not going to believe what’s happening at the McDonald’s in San Ysidro.”

My heart went cold as I looked at Stacy and said, “That’s where Tasha works.”

Stacy’s mom, suddenly realizing this news was graver for me, took my hands and said steadily, “A man has gone in there with a gun. Shots have been fired. He’s still in there. They’re not sure what’s happening.”

We all sat down. Now we were all glued to the television.

While Stacy worked the phone, contacting mutual friends for any news, I beat myself up inside. How could I have been so mean to her, so petty? Is the last thing Tasha will ever see of me is snubbing her at a party? Our squabble suddenly seemed so stupid, so high-school.

I remember thinking that Tasha had told me there’s a downstairs changing room in the back of McDonald’s, which I’d never known before. Maybe the gunman didn’t know that either. I started praying, “Please, Tasha, get downstairs. Maybe he won’t find you.”

We prayed and called and waited and watched for what seemed like forever, but which was really only 77 minutes. Then James Oliver Huberty was killed by a sniper, and the SWAT team went in and got out the survivors. Tasha was one of them. She’d been in the downstairs changing room, emerging without a scratch. 21 others were killed, and 19 others were wounded.

The heartbreaking image most people remember are two young boys, lying next to their bikes, shot to death in the parking lot.

Among the wounded was Albert Leos, a classmate of mine at Chula Vista High School. Shot and bleeding, he’d made his way downstairs to the changing room, where Tasha and others barricaded there let him in. They did their best to stop his bleeding by making tourniquets out of the leather ties from their boat shoes. Luckily, the gunman didn’t follow him, probably thinking he’d run out the back door.

As she told me later, the survivors were led out by SWAT team members and advised not to look down. You couldn’t help it, though; you had to step over bodies.

When Tasha and a co-worker emerged from the restaurant crying, a reporter ran up to them, along with a cameraman. She said, “How did it feel?” Tasha paused, looked at the reporter like she had 3 heads, and said, “How the f— do you think it felt?” On live TV. Tasha was awesome like that.

I talked to several friends who kept me apprised of Tasha’s whereabouts and let me know she had made it home. They told her I’d been calling and worrying about her. I asked them to find out if she’d be okay with me calling her. After a few minutes, they called back and said she would.

I’ll never forget hearing her pick up the phone and say, “Hello?” I started crying immediately. I told her how glad I was that she’d made it out of that restaurant. She was crying too, and forgave me for snubbing her at the party. We talked for a long time. She told me what it had been like, some details too graphic to recount here.

My heart ached for her. I knew this would be with her for a long time.

Twenty-five years later, I’m sure it still is.

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