Screams of panic and fear still rang in her ears, but Gloria Ayala managed to walk up the vacant steps of the Santa Monica College library on Sunday to leave a vase of red lillies.
For a few quiet moments at least, Ayala, 72, could close her eyes and say a prayer for her friend, Margarita Gomez. They had met on Thursdays for years in a nearby park, as part of a program through a senior center.
But late Friday morning, while Ayala was on Big Blue Bus No. 7, Gomez was on campus collecting bottles and cans to recycle as she always had done. Both of them would cross paths with suspected gunman John Zawahri. But for one, the encounter was fatal.
Gomez, who Ayala believed was in her 60s, was shot by the gunman only a few minutes after he opened fire at the bus Ayala was riding on.
"I'm so sad for my friend," Ayala said in Spanish. "We met every Thursday at the park with others from the senior center and she was always so active."
Ayala, too, almost became his victim.
In an instant, Big Blue Bus number 7 became a scene of screams, blood, and terror.
The rampage began with shots fired at 2036 Yorkshire Ave., shortly before noon in Santa Monica. Officers arrived to find the house on fire and two people -- the shooter's father and brother -- dead of gunshot wounds inside.
Officers then received information that the shooter carjacked a woman and forced her to drive to several locations. The gunman got out of the car and began firing indiscriminately, police said, including at Big Blue Bus No. 7.
Ayala was sitting behind the bus driver. Witnesses told reporters that the bus driver stopped at Pico Boulevard and Cloverfield Avenue, when the bus driver opened her window and started waving on the left side of the bus to let the car the gunman was riding in pass.
Glass shattered as bullets blazed through the bus, and passengers hit the floor, screaming, Ayala said. There was blood mixed with the glass.
"The screams were horrible," she said. "I'm still shaking. I feel anxious inside."
As the bus driver tried to get the passengers to safety, the gunman fired into the truck of Carlos Navarro Franco, who was driving with his daughter, 26-year-old Marcela Franco. The gunman then ordered the driver to take him to Santa Monica College, where he got out and shot Gomez in front of the library. When he entered the library, he also tried to shoot people who were inside.
The gunman was shot and killed when confronted by three police officers responding to the shooting.
Ayala found out later that night that it was her friend who had been killed in front of the library.
Her daughter. Roxanne Armendariz, accompanied Ayala to the campus, which was nearly empty except for security guards and a few local residents who used the pathways to walk their dogs.
Both women noted blood stains and the smell of bleach near the entrance of the library and Armendariz shook her head.
"I feel so blessed she's still alive," Armendariz said of her mother. "But I feel so sorry for her friend." ___