SANTA MONICA, California (Reuters) - The gunman who killed four people during a shooting rampage in Santa Monica before he was slain by police at a community college in the California seaside town was once a student there and had a brush with the law several years ago as a teenager, police said on Saturday.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks also revealed that several students at the college survived Friday’s shooting spree by hiding in an interior room of the library and stacking heavy objects against the door as the gunman fired through the walls at them.
Seabrooks detailed how the gunman, after killing two people identified by a law enforcement source as his father and brother and apparently setting their house on fire, went on to carjack a woman’s automobile, ordering her at gunpoint to drive him from place to place as he fired at other individuals.
That woman escaped unharmed, police said.
But two other people died - one of them a college employee shot while driving a sport utility vehicle in a school parking lot, and the other a woman gunned down outside the library at Santa Monica College.
A second woman who was a passenger in the SUV was gravely wounded, and Seabrooks described her prognosis on Saturday as “grim.”
Authorities have disclosed little about the gunman or his motives.
Seabrooks said the suspect would have turned 24 on Saturday, but she declined to reveal his identity, saying authorities wanted first to notify members of his family who were out of the country. The Los Angeles Times cited several law enforcement sources in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles in identifying the gunman as John Zawahri.
Seabrooks said the gunman was enrolled in the college, possibly along with a family member, as recently as 2010, and she cited a previous instance in which he had “contact” with law enforcement as a juvenile in 2006. But she declined to elaborate.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s department identified one of the four dead as Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, of west Los Angeles. He was the SUV driver shot in a staff parking lot at the college.
Police say the carnage began shortly before noon when they received reports of gunshots at a house east of the college and arrived find it engulfed in flames and two people dead inside.
By then, the gunman had fled the scene and commandeered the car of a woman whom he forced to drive across town, getting out at one point to open fire at a city bus, wounding three people, and again at the college parking lot to shoot Franco and his passenger in an SUV.
Dressed all in black and wearing a ballistic vest, he walked onto the campus carrying an assault-style rifle and a bag filled with multiple ammunition magazines, a handgun and other firearms gear, Seabrooks said.
He exchanged shots with police who confronted him outside the library, where he fatally shot a woman bystander, then entered the library and continued to fire away inside as three officers pursued him and ultimately shot him dead, Seabrooks said.
Several library patrons took shelter in a study room when they saw the gunman approaching, and Seabrooks said, “It’s miraculous that those individuals were not physically injured.”
The shooting rampage unfolded just a few miles from where President Barack Obama was speaking at a political fundraiser elsewhere in Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles.
The bloodshed did not appear to be related to Obama’s visit, and the Secret Service called it a “local police matter.”
The killing spree marked the latest in string of high-profile mass shootings, including a December attack in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school and a shooting last July at a suburban Denver movie theater that left 12 people dead.
Those attacks have helped reignite a national debate over gun violence in America that spurred Obama and his fellow Democrats to push for expanded background checks for gun buyers - an initiative defeated in the U.S. Senate.
Reporting by Dana Feldman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Walsh