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Santa Monica shooting: Details emerge about gunman

June 08, 2013|By Louis Sahagun, Richard A. Serrano and Marisa Gerber

The shooting rampage that left five people dead in Santa Monica on Friday was a premeditated act by an emotionally troubled man who armed himself with high-powered weapons and at least 1,300 rounds of ammunition, law enforcement sources said Saturday.

Authorities have not named the gunman, but law enforcement sources in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles identified him as John Zawahri, 24. Several of the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Zawahri struggled with his parents’ bitter divorce. He also had a history of mental issues, the sources said, but they could not be more specific. 

Santa Monica police said Saturday that the department had dealt with the gunman during a 2006 incident but would not provide details because he was a juvenile at the time.

Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks also said officers had previously gone to the Yorkshire Avenue home where Friday’s rampage began. Just before noon, the home was set on fire and authorities found the gunman’s father, Samir Zawahri, 55, and brother, Chris, 25, dead, sources said.

Seabrooks also said the gunman was “connected” with Santa Monica College in 2010 but was not more specific.

Friday’s violence ended when Zawahri, who’d been brazenly firing a semiautomatic rifle, was killed by police on the campus. 

Police said the rampage lasted about 10 minutes, with the gunman cutting a sharp, bloody path through normally quiet streets. 

“Any time someone puts on a vest of some sort, comes out with a bag full of loaded magazines…has a handgun and has a semiautomatic rifle, carjacks folks, goes to a college, kills more people and has to be killed at the hands of police,” Seabrooks said, “…that’s premeditated.”

Speaking at a West L.A. restaurant where Zawahri’s mother worked, a close friend of the family said that John struggled with mental health problems.

“John had a fascination with guns,” said the friend, who asked not to be named. “We were all worried about it.”

At 11:52 a.m. Friday, residents of a quiet neighborhood near the 10 Freeway reported hearing gunshots. Eyewitnesses saw a man in all black, wearing an ammunition belt and holding a semiautomatic rifle, who stood outside a home engulfed in flames near the intersection of Kansas and Yorkshire avenues.  The gunman had a “familial connection” to the house, police said.

Firefighters later found the bodies of two men inside the home. Police sources said the bodies were those of Samir Zawahri, 55, the owner of the house and Zawahri’s father, and one of his adult sons.

Santa Monica police said they had dealt with the suspect in 2006, including a call to the same address on Yorkshire Avenue, but the specifics of the case could not be discussed because the suspect was a juvenile at the time.

The gunman accosted the driver of a Mazda hatchback, got in the car and told her to drive him to Santa Monica College, the driver said in an interview with The Times. The gunman fired several rounds at random into the neighborhood with the semiautomatic rifle, witnesses said.

Near Cloverfield and Pico boulevards, the gunman fired on a city bus from front to back, shattering windows. Passengers dived to the floor for cover. Two passengers were injured, treated at local hospitals and released, police said.

At a parking lot at 20th and Pearl streets, the suspect fired at a red Ford Explorer, hitting driver Carlos Franco, who died at the scene. Franco was a Santa Monica College employee.

Frano's daughter, a passenger in the vehicle, has “a very grim prognosis,” Seabrooks said. 

Campus police intercepted the gunman on the edge of campus and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said. They continued to trade shots as the man ran toward the school's library and shot a woman outside the building's entrance before disappearing inside.

The woman later died at a hospital.

Inside the library, a group of people hid inside a “safe room” when they heard or saw the shooter coming, Seabrooks said. The group barricaded the door with materials found inside the room and dodged bullets the gunman fired through the drywall.

“It’s miraculous that those patrons were not physically injured,” she said.

Three police officers “neutralized” the shooter, Seabrooks said. He died of multiple gunshot wounds. During the rampage, five people were wounded, two seriously.

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