Born in Alabama and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Mitchell and his family where members of Jim Jones' People's Temple cult. In 1977, Mitchell's parents, Lee Charles and Annie Lee Mitchell, as well as his four sisters and brother left the United States for Guyana, where the People's Temple had set up a commune known as Jonestown. Mitchell remained in America. On November 18, 1978, Jones and his followers committed mass suicide, an event known as the Jonestown Massacre, and Mitchell's family were among the dead.
Although a motive for the shooting has never been formally identified, it is believed that Mitchell carried out the attack as a result of his family's deaths.
On February 24, a police car in Mitchell's neighbourhood heard shots ringing out. At around 2:23 PM the students of 49th Street Elementary School were being let out into the playground for their lunch break when 28-year-old Mitchell opened fire with an AR-15 rifle from the bay window of his house, which was located directly across the street from the school. The screaming children ran and searched for cover wherever they could find it. An ambulance which had been called to the scene actually drove onto the playground itself and pulled children to safety while Mitchell continued firing. Among those struck by the hail of bullets was 10-year-old Shala Eubanks, who was carried into a classroom by paramedics where they tried unsuccessfully to save her life. Remaining students where quickly evacuated and Mitchell's house was quickly surrounded by police.
During the ensuing siege, Mitchell's girlfriend Marylou Hill was brought to the scene to try and coax him into surrendering. Police refused to allow her to enter the building itself for fear of Mitchell taking her hostage. Other houses in the neighbourhood where also evacuated. Shortly before 6 PM, a four-man LAPD SWAT team stormed Mitchell's house and discovered Mitchell lying dead on floor. He had taken his own life with a double-barred shotgun.
Shala Eubanks died of her wounds on the floor of the classroom. She was buried on February 29. The only other fatality of the shooting was 24-year-old Carlos Lopez, a jogger who was passing by the school on the way to the park when the attack began. He was shot multiple times in the torso and underwent multiple surgeries to save his life, losing his spleen and pancreas in the process. However, his condition worsened and he succumbed to his injuries on April 13.