Santa Monica shootings hit home, nation numb

On Friday, June 7, a former Santa Monica College student, clad in bulletproof body armor and carrying an AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle, handgun, and 1,300 rounds of ammunition, embarked on a shooting rampage, culminating in the SMC library. Our school community is shaken from this horrific tragedy that left six dead, heartbroken for the victims and their loved ones, and fearful to set foot on our campus that was once a safe haven.

The following day, the story was not front page news outside of Santa Monica, and the national media was abuzz with talk of the Obama administration defending itself for government surveillance.

President Barack Obama spoke nothing of the shooting, even despite being only a few miles away when it occurred, at a fundraiser with Hollywood heavyweights. Perhaps he was preoccupied with his approaching Palm Springs trip to meet China’s president, but a gunman just opened fire randomly at people and vehicles on and around our bustling college campus of more than 30,000 students. This was a mass shooting by a mass murderer with a military-style assault rifle that took place on our campus. In every other comparable crisis, Obama has rushed to offer his condolence and assistance. A brief pause to express concern could have provided some level of comfort to our reeling community.

“Tonight we mourn,” SMC’s President and Superintendent Chui L. Tsang said at a vigil on campus, where hundreds gathered to honor victims on Monday, June 10. “The tragedies that took place could not be more poignant, more painful and more real for us.”

But the nation is not treating this mass shooting like the tragedy it is. It is not soliciting the same national infamy as Newtown or Aurora, nor is it prompting the same horrified response.

While the death toll was, thankfully, not as high, it very easily could have been, and the lives that were tragically lost are no less valuable. It is fortunate and almost miraculous that, given the gunman’s arsenal of destruction and the number of shots he fired, hundreds more did not fall victim to his shooting spree. Our community is forever grateful to the Santa Monica College Police Department and the Santa Monica Police Department for their swift response, taking down the gunman in the library before he could take more lives.

“People will really never understand how the outcome was prevented,” said SMPD Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

Obama’s former press secretary Bill Burton noted the numbed national reaction, tweeting, “Anyone else worried that just 2 days ago, a monster with 1,300 more rounds of ammo killed 4 & it’s barely part of the conversation this am?”

Not only is this tragedy being undermined in the national conversation, authorities are emphasizing that this harrowing incident is not classified as a school shooting.

After murdering his father and brother and setting fire to their home, John Zawarhi allegedly carjacked a woman, and in a cold, calculated effort, as he fired at those on city buses and streets bordering campus along the way, he directed her specifically to SMC, where he had the intent to kill people at our school. And that he did.

Three of our college community members were fatally shot on our campus soil  —  Marcela Franco, 26, an SMC student who had just purchased textbooks for her summer classes, her father Carlos Franco, 68, a longtime groundskeeper at the college who was driving his daughter, and campus figure Margarita Gomez, 68, who was collecting recyclables outside the library.

The gunman fired at least 70 rounds inside our library before police took him down, SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis said in a press conference on Saturday, June 8.

The shooter’s body was dragged to the sidewalk of the Pearl Street entrance to campus, where thousands of students park their cars and enter campus each day, and where students who had just been released from lockdown that Friday were escorted past.

The library’s surveillance image, released by the SMPD, of the armored gunman and his rifle — entering our library like a soldier ready for battle — will forever haunt the hearts of SMC students and chill us to the bone.

It certainly felt like a school shooting to us.