National News

June 12, 2013

Santa Monica gunman was mentally evaluated

LOS ANGELES — A gunman who killed five people last week in Santa Monica was held for a mental evaluation at a hospital after police searched his home for weapons and explosives in 2006, a former police officer said Tuesday.

Officers went to the house where John Zawahri lived with his father after the teen made repeated violent threats against students, teachers and campus security officers at Olympic High School, retired Santa Monica police officer Cristina Coria told The Associated Press.

Coria said she helped execute the search warrant but did not know the results of the mental evaluation. Police have declined to provide details because Zawahri was a juvenile at the time.

Earlier, Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school board said police had discovered bomb-making materials in a search of the home.

The school board was briefed by school administrators after police found Zawahri was learning to make explosives by downloading instructions from YouTube, de la Torre said.

“It was some type of devices or materials that would be able to make explosives, and the word ‘pipe bombs’ was what was referred to,” he said. “If it was guns and stuff like that it would have been more serious, but because it was explosives, it wasn’t deemed ‘Oh my God,’ just that this guy had a fascination.”

Zawahri wasn’t expelled, but he didn’t finish classes at Olympic High — a continuation school for students who have academic or disciplinary issues.

District superintendent Sandra Lyon said Zawahri attended the school for six months during 2006.

The revelation came four days after authorities said Zawahri shot and killed five people during a 15-minute rampage that ended on a Southern California college campus as students were taking final exams.

Zawahri, 23, shot his father, Samir Zawahri, 55, and his 25-year-old brother, Christopher Zawahri, on Friday, leaving their home in flames before shooting at strangers in cars and at Santa Monica College.

The former student at the school was heavily armed and carried a duffel bag with 1,300 rounds of ammunition before officers killed him in the campus library. The victims included a campus groundskeeper and his daughter, who was a student at the college, and a woman collecting cans outside the library.

Authorities were investigating how Zawahri got the weapons used in the rampage and how he accumulated so much ammunition.

De la Torre, who was a neighbor of Zawahri, said the gunman’s father told him he was having problems with his son eight months ago.

“They didn’t talk to a lot of people, they were very reserved,” de la Torre said. “One time he did tell me he had problems with his younger son, knowing I work with youth. He never went into detail about anything.”

Zawahri took classes at Santa Monica College in entertainment technology, which involves video game design and animation in 2009 and 2010, the college said in a statement that also reported no disciplinary issues with Zawahri.

Coria was a campus resource officer teaching a seminar on bullying and reporting threats in 2006 when she first took notice of Zawahri sitting at the back of a classroom.

“I remember him specifically because he had the long hair,” Coria said. “He had the black outfit on, the black trench coat, the black boots. He was very thin. He just had that isolated look.”

She said another campus officer warned her afterward to keep an eye on Zawahri because he had been taken in by campus police for making threats.

Zawahri was held by a hospital for mental evaluation after the search of his home, she said. Once a person is held for such an exam, they cannot access or possess firearms for five years.

In the case of Zawahri, that prohibition would have expired in 2011.

Investigators were trying to determine whether problems in the Zawahri family played a role in the killings.

Zawahri’s mother, Randa Abdou, said in a 1998 court filing seeking a restraining order that her husband had threatened to kill her twice and became abusive five years into their marriage after she had moved from Lebanon to join him in the U.S. Abdou has not spoken to the media.

Wendy Parise, who had Zawahri in her preschool class, remembers the 4-year-old as a “sad little boy” who was “very timid, withdrawn and very sensitive.”

In 1993, Zawahri’s mother contacted the school terrified and desperate. She told them “her husband had pulled a knife on her and her boys,” Parise said. The school sent her to a local battered women’s shelter.

“Now I look back and I think he was traumatized as a child, he was living through all of that, and part of me thinks, what happened to this boy in subsequent years?” Parise said. “That family was poisoned and he lived in a poisonous environment, and that was devastating.”

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