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Santa Monica shooting: FBI probes how gunman got weapons

June 10, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano, Victoria Kim and Jessica Garrison

Investigators are trying to determine how the gunman who killed five people in Santa Monica got his weapons.

A federal law enforcement source said Monday that authorities are in the process of tracing two firearms used by John Zawahri in the Santa Monica shooting rampage Friday.

One firearm, described as a “black powder handgun,” was believed to be a “curio- or relic-type” weapon that may have been in his family for some time.

“It’s an old-time gun,” the official said. The other weapon was described as a semiautomatic rifle.

Authorities also are tracing where Zawahri obtained such a large inventory of ammunition.

“We’ve been at his house, going through his computer too,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Several law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Zawahri, 24, had struggled over his parents' bitter divorce several years ago. He also had a history of mental issues, the sources said, but they could not be more specific.

Sources say the rampage began in the Zawahri home when the gunman killed his father, Samir, 55, and brother, Chris, 25. Police arrived to find the home on fire and the two bodies inside.

A former teacher of the gunman said his mother told her she was the victim of domestic abuse.

Wendy Parise is a former Santa Monica preschool teacher who taught John Zawahri when he was a young boy.

"He was my student. A very sweet, very quiet, very withdrawn child," she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Parise said Zawahri's mother, Randa Abdou, approached her to say that her husband had held a knife to her throat.

"There was tremendous violence in the home," Parise said. "I was very concerned for this little boy and his mother. I can only imagine what this very quiet, withdrawn little boy was observing.... My heart just aches thinking about his life, all these years."

Zawahri's parents had been divorced for years, neighbors said. Court records show two divorce filings. One was filed in 1993 by Samir Zawahri. Another, noting domestic violence, was filed by Abdou in 1998.

The family moved into a Santa Monica home in the 2000 block of Yorkshire Avenue about two decades ago, neighbors said. After the couple split up, Abdou eventually settled in an apartment about two miles away with her son Chris. John remained with his father.

Mykel Denis, who lives in Abdou's apartment complex, described her as a pleasant woman of Lebanese descent who lived with an "angry" son whose voice boomed when he became upset. Denis said he would often hear the man through the walls "yelling, screaming and cursing" and that often the loud outbursts occurred when the man was home alone.

Another neighbor, Beverly Meadow, described Abdou as a slight woman who moved into the second-floor apartment next door about five years ago. Abdou, she said, was on a one-month vacation in Lebanon and due back in Los Angeles sometime next week.

"She's a lovely woman," Meadows said. "Petite, sweet, quiet, brunet and classy — with a crazy kid."

A few miles away, Abdou's co-workers at the Rose Cafe in Venice — one of two waitressing jobs she holds — struggled Saturday to cope with the shootings.

"All I can think about are Randa's loving ways," said fellow waitress Nicole Derseweh, 30, tears in her eyes. "She's playful and funny, and always singing top 40 tunes.... I never saw her cry. She never talked about her kids."

Abdou wrote in a 1998 application for a restraining order that after she and her husband first married, the couple were apart for five years until she moved to the United States from Lebanon to join him. She said the marital troubles started right away and that her husband was verbally abusive and controlling.

She said she moved out with the children in February 1998. Her husband followed her and struck her and took the children without telling her, she wrote.

Samir Zawahri "said that he would do anything to make my life miserable and that he could kill me and no restraining order can stop him," she wrote.

When he saw her with a male friend two months after their separation, he became violent and threatened: "If I had a gun it would be over," she wrote. He pulled her hair and punched her, took her purse and divorce papers but left when police arrived, according to the declaration. She said she did not press charges because she was afraid of enraging him further.

"The defendant [Samir Zawahri] has told me that life means nothing to him if we are not together," she wrote.

The temporary retraining order was never served, according to records.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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