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Santa Monica shooting: Victims' family speaks out, students cope

June 09, 2013|By Frank Shyong, Angel Jennings and Jean Merl
  • Marcela and Carlos Franco
Marcela and Carlos Franco

A fifth victim of the Santa Monica shooting rampage died Sunday as Santa Monica College students and staff tired to cope with the violence and prepared to return to the campus Monday.

Student Marcela Franco, 26, died with her family by her side at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica College officials announced. Franco, who had just enrolled at the school for summer classes, and her father, Carlos Navarro Franco, a 68-year-old groundskeeper at the college, were shot while inside the father's SUV in a parking lot on the campus.

Authorities are still try to determine what caused John Zawahri, 23, to open fire on Santa Monica's streets before ending up at the college, where he was killed in a shootout with police. Law enforcement sources have said he was suffering from mental problems. Sources said Sunday that his mother, who was out of the country when the shooting occurred, is now back in California.

But on Sunday the Franco family was not interested in those answers. “For now, we are not asking why anymore,” said Marcela’s aunt Margaret Quinones-Perez, 58. “We have to just shut down, or we can't function.”

Carlos died at the scene, and Marcela was rushed to the hospital. Quinones-Perez and other family members spent a painful two-day vigil at the hospital before deciding Sunday morning to take her off life support.

She never regained consciousness. Quinones-Perez remembered her niece as “smart, beautiful, sexy, frisky, outgoing.” Marcela wanted to be a clinical psychologist. When her main college, CSU Dominguez Hills, couldn't provide the units she needed to graduate in the fall, she decided to take them at Santa Monica College, where her father worked.

“She was smart, obviously really pretty, and just very loving,” said Marcela’s boyfriend, Ryan Payne, 27, who also spent the weekend by her side. They had only been dating exclusively for about a month, but “it's been the best month of my life,” he added.

With the main campus still closed, some students and staff on Sunday trickled into a satellite facility on Bundy Drive a few miles away to receive counseling or simply talk about their experiences. Local restaurants and vendors donated food for the sessions.

Eric Minzenberg, an anthropology professor, said he was in his classroom with about 25 students when the school was placed on lockdown. He sprang into action, locking the classroom door and barricading it with desks and chairs. He said seeing SWAT officers on campus and police helicopters circling overhead left him shaken.

But some of his students witnessed far worse, Minzenberg said. One saw police shoot and kill the gunman; others were in the library when the gunman opened fire inside. Minzenberg said he sought out support at the crisis counseling center in hopes that by talking to a professional he could begin the healing process.

“I'm just feeling a little agitated and a little helpless in a situation like this,” he said. “One of our greatest fears is to have some mentally unstable student come and start shooting.”

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