Trustee's family copes with shooting a year later

A year has passed since John Zawahri sprayed Santa Monica with a shower of bullets, taking five lives before being taken down by police on the Santa Monica College main campus.

The tragedy was devastating for the campus community, who lost a member of its family that day. For Dr. Margaret Quinones-Perez, a member of the SMC Board of Trustees, the loss was felt in the most personal way.

Carlos Navarro Franco, groundskeeper at SMC, was shot down while driving his red pick up truck away from campus, his daughter Marcela in the passenger seat. He died on site, his daughter two days later. Carlos was Quinones-Perez's brother-in-law and his daughter her niece.

“You go numb. You go completely numb. We didn’t get their bodies until two weeks later,” Quinones-Perez said. “What you do then is you become kind of robotic, and you start doing all the things necessary to bury them with honor.”

A year later, her family is still recovering from the shock of losing a husband and a sister.

Since the shooting, Ramona Franco, Quinones' sister and the wife of Carlos Franco, and Leticia, daughter of Ramona and Carlos, have been in psychological counseling. Ramona now suffers from a heart condition she didn't have before the shooting. Leticia experienced serious physical trauma.

Zawahri started his rampage on Yorkshire Ave., where his father and brother lived. He set fire to the home, his family still inside, before hijacking a car on the street. He arrived on Pearl Street shortly after, spraying bullets along the way. On Pearl, he fired shots at Carlos Franco's red truck, hitting Franco and Marcela.

“He was going to take everybody out that he could possibly see," Quinones-Perez said. "Anyone within his eyesight he was going to kill.”

When the news that the victims of Zawahri's rampage were members of her own family reached her, Quinones shut off the side of her that works for the college.

“I have to be honest, I completely shut off my trustee side because my sister couldn’t do anything," Quinones-Perez said. "All the people that work at Santa Monica, I left it to them to pull it all together. I had to disconnect.”

June also marks another sad realization for the family; Marcela's graduation. She would have graduated this month. At the time, Marcela was preparing to take summer classes at SMC when she was fatally wounded on Pearl Street.

“I was really close to my niece, it was hard losing Marcela too because she was going into the field I’m in, Clinical Psychology. We had a lot in common.” Quinones-Perez said. She also counseled Marcela on graduate schools.

The wounds will never completely heal, but events of late open old scars. When Elliot Rodger opened fire in Isla Vista two weeks ago, the family felt the same horror all over again.

"The Santa Barbara incident set them back," Quinones-Perez said, talking on behalf of her family, who could not be interviewed. “When you see it on TV it’s like a flashback. You feel like they’re talking about your family being shot. The same feelings, the same memories, everything. We know what the families are going through, we know what Santa Barbara is going through, because we lived it. You can’t even watch TV. You know when you see those pictures, you know what they mean, you know what it’s like.”

Quinones-Perez believes that events like the June shooting and the rampage at Santa Barbara two weeks ago are a result of inefficient gun control. She encourages students to open discussions about gun control and to petition Congress for legislation that places stricter limits on purchasing guns.

“Normal is gone forever. Now they're in the process of developing a new life and a new normal,” Quinones-Perez.

St. Monica's Church in Santa Monica will hold mass and a moment of silence this Saturday for the families of the victims.