06/11/2013 01:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Santa Monica College Students Have Seen Bomb Scare, Suicide, Threats & Rampage This Year

SANTA MONICA -- Students and staff returned to Santa Monica College on Monday to finish their final exams and mourn the victim's of Friday's shooting rampage, all while wondering why and how such a tragedy could have occurred.

"I loved her very much and she left me," Luisa Gomez said tearfully in Spanish. "It's like she was here a minute ago and now she's gone. We were so very close. We spoke every day on the telephone."

Her 67-year-old sister had worked in a ceramics factory for about 20 years and retired with a small pension, Gomez said. She would collect bottles and cans for recycling twice a week to help pay her bills and was well-known on campus. She had lived in Santa Monica for about 26 years.

The shooting spree on Friday claimed five lives, plus the gunman, in addition to several injuries and damage to property.

Police identified former SMC student John Zawahri, 23, as the black-clad killer who went on a milelong shooting spree before noon that ended with him being gunned down by officers during a shootout inside the campus library. His victims included his father, Samir, 55, and brother Christopher, 24, who were shot before Samir's house was set on fire. He then shot three people at random as he made his way through the city in a carjacked vehicle.

At the college, he blasted a Ford Explorer driven by Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, a longtime SMC groundskeeper, killing him. He also shot Franco's 26-year-old daughter, Marcela, who had accompanied him to buy textbooks for summer classes. She died Sunday.

As he made his way onto campus, he shot Gomez near the school library before dying in a gunfight with officers inside the building.

Police later found that Zawahri's duffel bag packed a vintage revolver and enough magazines to hold 1,300 rounds of ammunition. The whole spree of violence lasted all of about 13 minutes.

"Again, we want to express our condolences to victims of this horrific crime," said Chief Albert Vasquez of the Santa Monica College Police Department, during a Monday news conference.

He said more than 100 students had seen school counselors. Police security was beefed up on campus.

In the past six weeks, the campus of up to 40,000 students had been traumatized by a bomb scare, suicide and off-campus threats, Vasquez said.

Students called for greater security and strict protocols for emergency response.

Theater arts major Sarge Hall, a 38-year-old Army veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan, tried to recite lines of two plays for his final exam on

Monday. But all he could think about was mayhem and murder.

"When something like this happens, it breaks our flow, disturbs our spirit and peace of mind," said Hall of Santa Monica. "(And) guess what? It ain't done. They ignore all the bomb threats. People have PTSD. We don't know what to think out here. As a combat veteran, all the warning signs are here."

At Zawahri's burned-out house, firefighters continued to assess the damage Monday, while a shrine to Chris Zawahri appeared on the front lawn. "R.I.P. Chris," it said, fronted by 21 votive candles. "Ima miss you bro," said one refrain. "I friggin miss your smile," said another.

"Why would somebody do this?" asked 16-year-old Fernando Vallarta, who lived a couple of blocks away, repeating the question on most people's minds. "It's crazy. Santa Monica is a pretty calm community. Now we have this."

Police said the Lebanese native had a run-in with the law in 2006, when he was a juvenile. Others said he had been upset about his parent's divorce before launching a murder spree that began with domestic violence.

A few miles away, in Los Angeles, was a small gray-and-white apartment complex dubbed "Western Pride," where his older brother and his mother, Randa Abdou, lived. Abdou was out of the country when the shootings occurred, police said, but she is believed to have returned since then. No one answered at her door on Monday.

The woman who was carjacked by Zawahri described her ordeal Monday in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Laura Sisk said she was driving to her nephew's play at a school in Los Angeles when the gunman, dressed in tactical gear, appeared on the street, pointed what looked like a machine gun at her and demanded she pull over. She said at first she thought he was perhaps part of the security detail for President Obama, who was in town for a fundraiser. That impression soon changed as he ordered her around and began shooting his weapon -- later identified as a .223 caliber assault rifle -- at random targets on the street.

He had her put his bag full of ammunition into her back seat on top of a child seat, then forced her to drive through Santa Monica, stopping at least twice to shoot randomly at cars and a city bus along the way.

"Somewhere along the ride, he said this is what's going to happen: 'You're going to drive me to Santa Monica College'," she recalled. "I thought perhaps that was where Obama was. I didn't know. 'You're going to drive me there, you're going to pull over and get out and put my bag on the ground and let me go.' I kept saying don't hurt me, I have children, don't hurt me. Thank God I didn't have a child in the back seat. He shot where a child would've been sitting."

He let her go at the college. She said she drove through the campus trying to warn people about the gunman and called 9-1-1. Later police had her show them where it all started and go through the route.

Hundreds of people attended the somber vigil at the college's Corsair Stadium amid a heavy police presence.

"We're gathered here today to mourn together the senseless loss of life," said Jonathan Mooney, a speaker at the event who works with a community program in Santa Monica that helps young people find jobs. "But also to celebrate lives well-lived. We are here together to remember what we stand for as a community. We're a city where neighbors wave to each other on the street. Our goal needs to be to stand together as a community." ___



Santa Monica Shooting Rampage