“California Dreaming” could have been written for a day such as Friday, June 7, 2013. It was a postcard day of sunshine, light breezes, and ocean waves. President Obama was in Santa Monica and the biggest problem of the day was avoiding the motorcade when driving through town.
Suddenly, the dream was shattered. A shooter was killing people at Santa Monica College. The news was, instantly, everywhere. The City responded. Santa Monica Police and Campus police teamed up. Schools across the City were put on lockdown. Streets were closed and traffic rerouted. SMC campus was evacuated and the City held its collective breath.
The first call came in at 11:52 am. Shots were heard. Two men were killed. A house went up in flames. The shooter went on to hijack a car and terrorize the woman behind the wheel into driving him to Pico Boulevard where he shot at cars and a Big Blue Bus. He then forced the driver to take him to SMC.
The shooter headed for the library. The students who could fled the campus, dropping their backpacks as they ran. In the library students barricaded themselves into what they hoped were safe places.
At 12:05 pm it was over. Wounded in a shoot out with two Santa Monica Police Department officers and one Santa Monica College police officer, the shooter was moved to the sidewalk where he died.
All around town parents were waiting outside elementary schools for news and for the decision to be made that it was safe for the children to leave their schools. While the parents talked and worried, the children were safe. At John Adams they watched a movie and had cookies. They came out to their parents happy and relaxed.
City Manager Rod Gould had, as usual, biked to work that day.
He told of being in a police car with Police Captain Ken Semko when, at 11:52 am, word came over the radio of shots being fired, a house in flames.
The Captain turned on the lights and sirens and they listened to the dispatcher giving information to the first responders.
“When you hear automatic gunfire everything in your DNA says run away,” said Gould. “Our people were running toward the gunfire.”
“We got to Pearl Street and went toward the library,” he said. “A man, dressed all in the black of the police uniform, was down and our first impression was that one of ours had fallen. Then we realized it was the assailant.”
Gould applauded the joint collaboration between everyone involved.
“Thirteen minutes,” Gould said. “11:52 to 12:05. It was over. It was chaotic, it was frightening, but everyone pulled together and I’m fiercely proud of all our officers, our teachers, our bus drivers, and our public and community service employees.
“We have a mutual aid pact with other law enforcement agencies that we will help each other in emergencies. We don’t bill each other; we just go when we’re needed. A small army of SMPD, SMFD, BHPD, CCPD, LAPD, FBI and ATF were at the Command Center. They formed teams to search the campus. They needed to make sure there were no more victims needing help. They needed to make sure no other assailants were hiding on campus.”
On Friday, the gunman was still “the shooter.”
A terrifying man with an assault rifle, a gun, 1300 rounds of ammunition and he was killing people.
We learned later that his name was John Zawahri. He had gone to school in Santa Monica and people knew that he had mental and emotional problems as far back as middle school.
The first people he killed on that Friday were his father, Samir Zawahri, and his older brother, Christopher Zawahri.
At the college he shot and killed the well-known and well-liked grounds keeper, Carlos Navarro Franco. Marcela Dia Franco, Mr. Franco’s daughter, was at the college with her father that day to get her books for school.
She and Margarita Gomez were both shot during the mayhem on campus and were taken to a trauma center. Neither victim survived. Six deaths. Five victims. One gunman.
Grief hit hard. People got ready to deal with it. To heal by helping each other. To work to restore a sense of order and confidence.
Santa Monica had learned from other cities that had suffered from similar violence. People talked of Boston, of Sandy Hook, of Columbine. Santa Monica also shares with these other communities qualities of resilience and kindness and empathy in the presence of anguish.
On Saturday, Santa Monica’s famous Paddleboard Races were dedicated to the memory of the victims of the SMC tragedy and spectators and competitors observed a moment of silence.
By Sunday, the parks were full of children playing soccer, families were at the beach, and people riding bicycles were everywhere.
It looked like a normal day in Santa Monica. But at the SMC Bundy Campus many students, staff, and faculty gathered for grief counseling. Volunteers from the American Red Cross, the Clergy, and from the college were there to help anyone who asked.
Local businesses donated food and while many people were upstairs in counseling sessions other people were gathering in the courtyard to eat and talk and be together.
The first of many memorial services was held on Sunday at St. Anne’s, just blocks away from SMC. The Franco and Gomez families were there.
The Mayor was there, the State Assemblyman was there; neighbors and friends were there. The outdoor sanctuary was beautiful.
Chui Tsang, SMC President said, “On Friday the tranquility of our campus was broken by violence. Our deepest condolences go to the families of Carlos and Marcela Franco and Margarita Gomez. I promise to you that this violent act will not take us away from our mission.”
On Monday, more than 1000 people came to together at SMC Corsair Field to mourn. People who didn’t know each other hugged each other.
The victims were remembered and families of the victims were honored.
Speakers called for people to come together in the spirit of the school and the community.
Ramona Franco, wife of Navarro and mother of Marcela, teaches at the St. John’s Child Studies Center.
At St. Johns a fund was set up for employees who wanted to contribute their PDO time (paid days off) to Mrs. Franco.
At the college memorial funds were being established for both the Franco and the Gomez families.
Sister Maureen Craig of St. Johns said, “This is the time when people put aside their problems and come to the aid of the person hurting grievously.”
Americans have shown they feel the same way as Sister Maureen. In every tragedy people demonstrate great unselfishness and bravery as people come together to help and to heal.
Violence, senseless violence has become a fear we all live with.
All of us, it seems, but not all our Senators and Congressional Members. With 90 percent of Americans supporting strict background checks for gun owners they still didn’t vote for gun control. Why not support the ban on automatic weapons? Do they not share the anguish we all feel? Do they feel immune?
The privilege of being an elected official should not be in the perks of the job, it properly is in the opportunity the job creates for doing good and for making life better for the people one serves.
To protect ourselves, our families and our communities we shall have to use the power of the vote and political and financial support to insist that gun control laws be enacted. If we succeed in protecting even one child from the senseless and random violence of a madman it is worth doing.