Santa Monica Mourns, Heals Following Mass Shooting

Saturday, 15 Jun 2013, 8:47:00 AM

Susan Cloke

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

“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.”

Gould continued.

“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.

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