Santa Monica community reacts to shooting

Neighborhood resident Gabrielle Smith decided not to take her dogs Bailey and Clover out for their usual walk on Friday. Upon looking out her kitchen window, Smith saw smoke rising from a home nearby and, after hearing gunshots, thought perhaps a meth lab had blown up. "It's more a mental health issue than a gun issue," said Smith, an ex-juvenile probation officer, of the gunman who opened fire near and on Santa Monica College's main campus Friday.

The shooting has left scars across Santa Monica. Neighbors present for the rampage were compelled to help as the shooter hijacked a car while a house burned to ash behind him.

Santa Monica resident Tom O'Rourke lives next door to the burned-down house where, allegedly, Zawahri's father and the older brother lived. "The family lived together at that house for 15 years, but Mrs. Zawahri left about five years ago and each boy lived with one parent," said O'Rourke. "I think the divorce may have affected the kid."

When O'Rourke came out front, he described a woman driving by telling Zawahri to stop and as she was trying to leave "he loaded 5 or 6 individual shots." He said he remembers the rifle being long.

"He made another middle aged woman get into her vehicle and drive, and I guess he was on his way to Santa Monica College," O'Rourke said.

Zawahri continued his spree by firing at a Big Blue Bus before reaching the campus, where he shot and killed Carlos Franco, 68, as he was driving his daughter Marcela, 26, who was injured and transported to UCLA Ronald Reagan, where she died Sunday morning.

Janet Carter, a neighbor who lives two houses away from the incident, said she heard five shots fire before Zawahri tried to hijack the woman and her car. She said another woman drove down the street to try and stop Zawahri and that he proceeded to shoot her car. The shot hit the driver and shattered the passenger window. She pulled into a neighbor's driveway. "When we got to that driveway, Jerri [a neighbor] already had called 911 and she gave the phone to Tom [O'Rourke] who was remembering the plate number in his head," Carter said. "She was on the phone with her husband and coherent the whole time," Carter said. "We saw the house was burning, the police and fire trucks came quickly, and that's when I heard over the police radio that something was going on at the Santa Monica [College] library."

Since the shooting, five people have died. Zawahri, 23, was shot down in the library on Friday.

There will be a vigil held in front of the Santa Monica College library Monday evening at 6 p.m. The students as well as the community will be invited to attend the event.

"This is the first step of healing," said SMC President and Superintendent Chui L. Tsang at a community gathering on the SMC Bundy Campus Sunday.

Crisis counselors were made available to talk to students privately at the event. Tsang mentioned that for those students who have finals but are uncomfortable returning to campus, "they should email their instructor. Special arrangements can be made."

Tsang urged students to reach out to see if friends are stressed or doing something uncommon.

"This is a time when we need to help each other and look after each other," he said.

SMC's dean of counseling Brenda Benson, who organized the crisis counseling, brought the counselors to support school staff and students.

"It is important to know that the counselors place privacy of the students as a number one priority," says Benson, "and it's important to give these types of services as long as it is needed, and the college is committed to doing that."

During the week, students, staff and faculty can attend counseling on the main campus from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Transfer Counseling Center.

"We're having a traumatic experience, and still there were people who acted valiantly and courageously in the incident to prevent more loss of life," Tsang said.

Santa Monica College Police Chief Albert Vasquez said there will be heightened patrol on the main campus on Monday and police escort service until 11 p.m.

"We're continuing to work with the Santa Monica Police Department and other agencies to keep Santa Monica College a safe community," Vasquez said. The campus will have additional security personnel onsite for Tuesday's graduation ceremonies as well, Tsang said in a statement to the college community.

"I don't feel unsafe," Carter said. "It's just one of those freak things that's part of today's life now, which is unfortunate." Herron_NEWS_SMC-Shooting_010