On January 17, 1989, a disturbed loner, Patrick Purdy, brought a Chinese-made AK-47 to the Cleveland Elementary School and started firing. He killed five children and wounded 30 others, including one teacher. He then killed himself. The victims were mostly from Cambodia and Vietnam — Stockton is one of the major hubs for South Asian refugees.
Stockton was in the national news — as always, just for something awful. Michael visited Stockton Elementary School shortly after the shooting. His visit left a tremendous impact on children who were still emotionally and psychologically scarred from that tragedy. Weeks after he was wounded in the Cleveland Elementary School shootings, 6-year-old Rob Young and his family received a call from a caseworker with the San Joaquin County district attorney’s victim/witness assistance office that a celebrity was coming to Stockton to visit children and families.
“They didn’t tell us who it was,” Young said. “We thought it was going to be the president.”
In fact, it was pop singer Michael Jackson, just back from a world tour and at the height of his celebrity. Jackson had heard about the tragedy and, on Feb. 7, 1989, he came to town to try to boost spirits.
Wearing a dark blue military-style uniform, Jackson visited every classroom at Cleveland that day, stopped by Central Methodist Church to meet wounded children not yet ready to return to school and sat with two more children still recovering at San Joaquin General Hospital. Jackson gave all the children videotapes and T-shirts.
“His presence made me feel like, ‘Oh, wow, the world is safe, and it is possible to dream, and there is hope after all,’ ” said Elizabeth Pha, 27, who as an adult is pursuing her own career as a singing star.
In a recent interview with former Record reporter Dianne Barth, Cleveland Principal Pat Busher said, “(Jackson’s) motivations were heartfelt. … It was to help children. And that event did a lot of good for the children.”
“He brought truckloads of gifts and held children in his arms. He was genuinely concerned and expressed his sorrow.” said Diane Batres, head of the Victim Witness program in Stockton, who explains she was contacted by Jackson because he was interested in visiting the school and the surviving children.
Michael also distributed videotapes of his latest recordings to the children and staff at the school. One of the songs distributed was Man in the Mirror. Five children died, 29 more and a teacher were injured, on January 17th 1989.