Police: Santa Monica Shootings ‘Premeditated,’ Shooter ‘Ready for Battle’
(SANTA MONICA, Calif.) — A man who allegedly killed five people in a shooting spree in Santa Monica, Calif., before being gunned down in a shootout with police in the Santa Monica College library planned out the attack, police said Saturday.
Police said the suspect, 23-year-old John Zawahri, was wearing a protective vest and carrying so much weaponry that he was, in the words of one official, “ready for battle.”
“I would presume anytime someone puts on a vest of some sort and has a bag of loaded magazines as an extra receiver, has a handgun and has a semi automatic rifle, carjacks folks, goes to a college, kills more people and has to be neutralized at hands of police — I would stay that’s premeditated,” Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said.
They also confirmed that the Zawahri would have turned 24 years old on Saturday and that he, along with another family member, had a connection to Santa Monica College.
Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt. Richard Lewis described the suspect as being “heavily armed” and “ready for battle.” Lewis said at least 70 rounds were fired in the Santa Monica Library alone.
Zawahri was carrying approximately 1,300 rounds of ammunition, in addition to a revolver and a rifle similar to an AR-15 semi-automatic in a duffel bag, Seabrooks said.
Police had responded to an earlier incident involving the Zawahri in 2006, Seabrooks said, but she could not release anything more about that incident because he was a minor at the time.
On Friday, authorities first responded to a report of shots fired at 11:52 a.m. PT and found a house on fire. Two dead bodies were found inside the home, fire officials said. Authorities said the dead bodies were related to the shooter, but they did not specify how.
Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the fire in the front room before finding the bodies, which were toward the rear of the house. Authorities told reporters they were still investigating what caused the fire.
A few minutes after noon, Santa Monica authorities started getting calls that a city bus was being hit with gunfire. Zawahri had reportedly carjacked a woman at gunpoint and forced her to drive him to Santa Monica College’s campus, spraying bullets at nearby vehicles on the route.
Two people riding a city bus sustained minor injuries from the gunfire.
“When I saw the gun pointing at me, I ducked and heard the bullet whiz by,” he said.
According to police, the Zawahri fired on two people in a Ford Explorer in the campus faculty parking lot. That vehicle later crashed into a block wall.
The driver was killed and the passenger was in critical condition, authorities said. The man killed was confirmed to be 68-year-old Carlos Navarro Franco, a Santa Monica College employee. His daughter, Marcela Franco was hospitalized and died of her injuries on Sunday.
The woman, who was forced to drive Zawahri to the Santa Monica College campus, was unharmed.
Once on campus, Zawahri, who was dressed in all black, opened fire at bystanders, fatally shooting one woman before he went inside a library on campus, police said. Authorities did not identify the woman who was killed by name, but said she was appeared to be white and in her 50’s.
Once in the library, he initially tried to shoot students in a “safe room,” according to Seabrooks. But the students were able to barricade the door.
“He continued to shoot at them,” Seabrooks said. “The officers came in and directly engaged the suspect, and he was shot and killed on the scene.”
Three officers engaged Zawahri according to authorities, two from the Santa Monica Police Department and one from Santa Monica College.
Authorities initially stated that the shootings left as many as six people dead, they later downgraded to five deaths, which included four victims and the shooter himself. The total was pushed back up to six when Marcela Franco passed away Sunday afternoon.
In addition to the dead, at least five people were injured, police said.
The college campus went on lockdown following the shootings as police attempted to secure the scene. Students would be allowed to return for their vehicles Saturday and other belongings Sunday. The campus was expected to reopen Monday morning at 7a.m.
In 911 calls, the shooter was described as armed with several weapons.
Elsewhere on the campus, a person of interest was taken into custody, then released when his claim not to be involved checked out. According to Lewis, the man found a duffle bag belonging to Zawahri that had magazines, a handgun and part of a rile in side. Police temporarily detained him soon after that.
Santa Monica College student Sam Luster was preparing for a presentation in the school’s library when he heard gunfire.
“We didn’t know what was happening until all the students at the entrance of the library started running down towards the bottom of the library,” Luster told ABC News Los Angeles station KABC.
Luster took cover under a desk before moving towards an exit. He said he heard multiple gunshots near the exit.
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