Five people died and others were wounded when John Zawahri armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle and went on a shooting rampage Friday in Santa Monica, Calif. The carnage ended when police shot the 23-year-old to death in the Santa Monica College library. This is a brief look at the lives of the people he attacked, as well as his own troubled life.
Zawahri, 55, was the gunman’s father and one of the first people killed. He died at the Santa Monica house where he had lived since the early 1990s and where neighbors said he raised one of his two sons after he and their mother separated when the children were young. The split was acrimonious, and although one neighbor described Zawahri as “a very nice gentleman,” his wife, Randa Abdou, said he was “abusive and controlling.” In court papers seeking a restraining order against him in 1998, she said he had twice threatened to kill her and had punched her and pulled her hair. She said he also threatened to abduct their two sons and flee to Canada when the children were just 9 and 10.
Zawahri, 25, was the gunman’s older brother and also died at the Santa Monica house his father owned. Neighbors have said that after the couple split in the 1990s, one of the siblings went to live with their mother at a nearby apartment while the other lived with his father. Neighbor Beverly Meadows said it was Zawahri who lived with his mother, in an apartment next door to her’s. His mother sheltered him, Meadows said, and he didn’t appear to have a job. He had taken a course at Santa Monica College, and when he was home, neighbors said, he often listened to loud music.
Fine was the first person shot after the gunman left his father’s home. She is recovering from wounds to her shoulder, arm and ear. Fine was driving home from a singing lesson when she saw the gunman, assuming at first he was there to provide security for President Barack Obama, who was attending a fundraiser nearby. “He looked right at me,” Fine said. “Stared right at me and then shot. No hesitation.” She believes he just wanted her out of the way so he could flee in the car of another woman he had abducted. As she fell to her side and pretended to be dead, she called her husband for help. Neighbors quickly came to her aid, one of them holding a towel to her wounds until paramedics arrived. When she got to the hospital she learned two other victims were already dead. “I feel very, very lucky to be here,” she said.
CARLOS NAVARRO FRANCO:
Franco, 68, was the first person killed at Santa Monica College, where he had worked for 22 years as a groundskeeper. He was praised by the school’s president, Chui L. Tsang, as “an integral part of the Santa Monica College family.” His daughter Marcela Franco had enrolled in a summer class at the college, and the two were going to buy books for her when the gunman sprayed her father’s SUV with gunfire. Franco was killed instantly and his daughter died at a hospital two days later. “Everything Carlos did was for the college and for his family,” said his supervisor, Tom Corpus.
Franco, 26, was riding with her father in his SUV when the gunman sprayed the vehicle with bullets as it exited a staff parking lot at Santa Monica College. Her father, who worked as a college groundskeeper, was killed instantly and she died two days later at a hospital. Franco, who was pursuing a degree in psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, had decided to take a summer class at Santa Monica, and she and her father, Carlos Navarro Franco, were on their way to buy her schoolbooks. “Marcela and Carlos were very close,” said her aunt Margaret Quinones-Perez. “She was a daddy’s girl, so the blessing is they went together.”
Gomez, 68, was the gunman’s last victim, shot to death outside the Santa Monica College library as horrified witnesses looked on. The mother of two sons was not a student at the college, but lived nearby and was well known on the campus. She visited regularly to collect cans and other recyclables, and would donate a portion of her recycling money to the Senior Latino Club, which meets regularly at a nearby park. The money would go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and other causes the club supports. Students would often hand over their cans to her, and this week they created a makeshift memorial in her memory, filling it with candles, flowers and balloons. “She was just the nicest lady,” said college bookstore manager David Dever. “She would come by the bookstore regularly, and always had a big smile for us.”
Zawahri, 23, reportedly led a troubled life for years before launching Friday’s deadly rampage. After fatally wounding his father and brother, Zawahri killed his other three victims at Santa Monica College, where he had been enrolled in electronic game design classes in 2009 and 2010. College officials say he was never disciplined during that time. He was killed Friday in a gunfight with police inside the school library as students fled the building or ducked for cover. He would have marked his 24th birthday the next day. Santa Monica-Malibu school board member Oscar de la Torre said police found bomb-making materials in his home seven years ago after he threatened fellow students at his high school. De la Torre, who was a neighbor of Zawahri’s, said the man’s father told him eight months ago he was having problems with him.