College increases security in aftermath of rampage shooting

The vigils still stand.

Months after the shooting rampage that left six dead, traces of the tragedy that ended on campus are virtually gone, except for the candles and flowers that still stand where victims died.

Since the shooting, school administrators have pushed the revamping of Santa Monica College's security to the top of their priority list, taking time and money to inform students and faculty of procedures in the event of an emergency.

Part of these changes include a half-million-dollar phone system that doubles as a public address system. Phones will be installed in every existing room on campus where, by just hitting a button, police can send auto-recorded alerts across campus. The system can also send warnings to select sections of the campus, for instance the Letters and Science Building, in case of an emergency.

The new security changes are meant to “make the campus have the whole feeling of safety,” said Santa Monica College Police Department Chief Albert Vasquez.

“This way, at least everybody will be on the same page as to what we are going to be doing as the police department,” Vasquez said.

SMC President and Superintendent Chui L. Tsang created an Emergency Preparedness Taskforce following the events of the shooting rampage, made up of different constituents, including Vasquez, to discuss the improvement of campus security. On the table are discussions about adding more video cameras around campus, systematically locking down the campus, and issuing campus keys to all staff.

On June 7, John Zawahri began his deadly trail on the 2000 block of Yorkshire Avenue in Santa Monica, where he set fire to the house his father and brother were occupying. Next he took hostage of a driver, who he instructed to drive toward Cloverfield and Pico Boulevard, the intersection where he shot at a Big Blue Bus and injured a female passenger.

Zawahri then told the driver to take him to SMC. On Pearl Street, he began firing at random, where he shot through the car of Carlos Navarro Franco, killing Franco and his daughter, Marcela, who died after being transported to a hospital.

Zawahri proceeded through the Liberal Arts Building, where in front he shot down Margarita Gomez. He then entered the library, firing shots before ultimately being brought down by members of the SMCPD and Santa Monica Police Department.

The shooter carried with him a handgun and a .233 assault rifle with as many as 1,300 rounds of ammunition.

“Because of the type of situation that it was, it really brought home that we are probably not as well staffed as we should be,” said Vasquez. “This really just put it on the front burner that we really need more staff.”

The SMCPD is currently in the process of recruiting more officers and increasing the number of its cadets to 20.

Sixty-seven hours after Zawahri's rampage, campus re-opened and finals week continued.

On the day of the shooting, Brenda Benson, dean of counseling and retention, was asked to organize crisis counseling. The college contracted the Crisis Care Network, an organization that helps people cope with tragedy, and began counseling on the Bundy campus by 6 p.m. that night.

“Everyone had different needs,” said Benson in an email to The Corsair. “All the standard rules were off the table. Counselors were instructed to use their judgment and work with individuals as long as they needed to.”

Sessions lasted from 20 minutes to up to three hours, Benson said. SMC students and faculty were allowed as many sessions as needed. Benson estimated that as many as 800 people sought counseling in various forms in the weeks following the event.

“It could have been much worse, just with the firepower this guy had,” Vasquez said.

A presentation on the new campus security measures will be available for the next seven Fridays, in Room 205 of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building, to any student, faculty or community member who would like to know more.

“We always believe that [SMC] is this little island where nothing is going to come up, but were an open campus," said Vasquez. "It's wide open.”

Students still troubled by the shooting can make an appointment at Psychological Services in the Liberal Arts Building on campus. Faculty and staff can also contact EASE, an employee assistance program.