The suspect, 23-year-old John Zawahri, was known as an angry young man with a “fascination with guns” that worried family friends. Zawahri was born in Lebanon but has lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years. In a press conference on Sunday, police said the troubled young man had planned out the attack and likely hoped to kill hundreds. The spree lasted 10 minutes, ending when police shot and killed Zawahri on the scene.
Zawahri allegedly killed his father and brother and burned down their house before heading toward Santa Monica College, armed with a ballistic vest, an AR-15 assault rifle and a duffel bag filled with an estimated 1,300 rounds of ammunition, magazines, and a .44 revolver. He shot and wounded a woman driving by his house, then carjacked another woman. On the way, he shot at pedestrians and a city bus, injuring 3 people.
Once he arrived at the community college, Zawahri gunned down a groundskeeper, 68-year-old Navarro Franco, killing him immediately, and his 26-year-old daughter, Marcela, who died in the hospital on Sunday. Witnesses say students scattered, jumping out windows and running for their lives. He then shot an unidentified woman in her 50s outside the library, went inside and fired 70 rounds at students who had been studying for exams. Police ultimately shot and killed him in the library.
Zawahri had a run-in with the law in 2006, but police could not give more details as he was a juvenile at the time. A law enforcement source told CNN that Zawahri had been hospitalized for mental issues after talking about wanting to hurt someone.
It is not clear where Zawahri got a hold of his AR-15 — the same weapon used in the Aurora theater shooting and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last year. Technically, certain AR-15 rifles are prohibited in California, but critics have said the law is rendered essentially toothless by loopholes and legal challenges. In May, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a new law to give law enforcement more funding to crack down on illegal assault weapons owned by convicted criminals and people with serious mental illnesses.
Many have already expressed shock that such violence could occur in a sleepy, affluent town like Santa Monica. But similar towns in southern California have suffered through random mass shootings in recent years. A 20-year-old man went on a shooting spree across suburban Orange County just a few months ago, killing four. Eight died in a hair salon shooting in Seal Beach, CA, three years ago. And in 2005, four others were killed in a rampage in the small town of Thousand Oaks, not far from Santa Monica.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December, more people have been killed by guns than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq War. Though Congress failed to pass an enormously popular proposal to expand background checks in April, the Center for American Progress has identified several ways federal enforcers can crack down on illegal gun sales and stop shootings before they happen.