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Survivor remembers Stockton mass school shooting 35 years later and calls for change

Survivors of Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton gather in remembrance
Vigil held to remember lives lost in Stockton school shooting 35 years ago 03:13

STOCKTON - Wednesday marks 35 years since five students were shot and killed and 32 others wounded at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton. It was one of America's first mass school shootings.

The Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) said it has been committed since then to ensure no tragedy ever happens on one of its school campuses again. 

"Most children today grow up knowing that at some point they could be fleeing bullets," said Judy Weldon who survived the Cleveland Elementary School shooting. 

On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy wreaked havoc on the Stockton schoolyard before he turned the gun on himself.

"Mrs. Weldon he's got blood, take the next child out," said Judy. 

Judy was teaching second grade at Cleveland when three of her students were wounded. She remembers that day well and showed CBS13 the terrifying images that students drew in therapy following that day. 

"This is the part that scares me the most, the blood," said Judy as she read one of the drawings. "The shooter was here at one of the portables. The playground and where children fell near the tetherballs." 

The tragedy sparked safety changes at Stockton Unified. Now every Stockton School is a closed campus, has fencing and surveillance cameras. 

Director of Communication and Media Relations at SUSD, Melinda Meza, said there will soon be emergency notification and visitor buzzer systems. 

"It's in our hearts and it's our duty to keep students, staff and teachers safe," said Meza. "Unfortunately it's not a choice, it's a must." 

Meza said some of the students who were in the school shooting have gone on to do careers in law enforcement, including one that used to work as a school police officer for SUSD. 

Cleveland Shooting Victims

"He thought of police officers as heroes because they helped him when he was that little second grader who was shot in that leg," said Meza. "Now, I call him a hero." 

Active shooter training for students and staff is the new norm, but Judy said this often leads to more trauma for children. 

"It doesn't make me feel at peace because there will always be a gunman," said Judy. 

Seeing more school shootings since then sometimes makes her feel hopeless, but is not giving up on trying to change gun laws. 

"We need legislatures who are sensitive to the impact of gun violence," Judy said. "The proliferation of these kinds of weapons is shocking." 

Judy has dedicated the past 35 years of her life to meeting with people impacted by gun violence to exchange stories and find healing. 

"It's amazing when you sit down across the table working with someone else who has been impacted," Judy said. 

She is asking people to put themselves in the shoes of the five children who never got to go home 35 years ago. 

"We're putting our children's psyche at risk the more violence occurs," said Judy. 

On Wednesday evening, Cleveland School Remembers hosted a vigil at Central United Methodist Church on Pacific Avenue in Stockton in commemoration of the shooting and to honor all the lives lost from gun violence. 

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