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Santa Monica shootings: 10 harrowing minutes

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Ten harrowing minutes.

That's how long it took a lone gunman to cut a deadly path Friday through Santa Monica, starting in a residential neighborhood just south of the 10 Freeway.

Before it ended, a mile away at Santa Monica College, five were dead, including the gunman. Another victim was clinging to life Friday night in "very critical" condition, authorities said. Four others had lesser injuries.

The incident began in the 2000 block of Yorkshire Avenue, where two victims were found dead after a house fire.

Law enforcement sources said that they believe these victims are related to the gunman, possibly his father and brother, although there was no official confirmation. Nor would authorities comment on the fire, other than to say its origin is suspicious and under investigation.

The gunfire started on the same street.

The first 911 call came in at 11:52 a.m.; others quickly followed. Officers arrived to find the house on Yorkshire in flames. The gunman's trail was easy to follow, but he worked quickly in the few minutes he would have.

First, he carjacked a vehicle being driven by Laura Sisk, 41, of Culver City. Sisk said she presumed at first that the man was with the police or Secret Service. She was in an unfamiliar neighborhood, trying to avoid the roadblocks set up for a visit by President Obama when she steered her blue Mazda onto Yorkshire

The car in front of her made a U-turn, revealing the shooter, with his assault rifle pointed at her, a bag at his feet.

"He told me to pull over," she recalled, still clearly shaken. "He insisted I get out of the car and pick up his bag. I think it was full of ammunition, and insisted I drive him."

Sisk said she tossed his bag in the rear passenger seat and told him to take the car.

"I said, 'Take my car, take my car!'" she recalled.

" 'No. You're driving,' " Sisk said he told her.

Before taking the seat beside her, she said the man fired shots into the neighborhood.

Sisk said that, at one point, when the car was stopped at a red light -- she doesn’t remember where -- the man stepped partially out of the car so she couldn’t drive away and began shooting again.

He got back in and said, " 'Go! Go! Go!' so I drove, drove, drove," Sisk said.

The gunman's targets included Santa Monica city bus No. 4057, which had an ad for the "Lone Ranger" film on its side. He strafed the bus; passengers dived for the floor, witnesses said.

Three people sustained minor shrapnel or bullet wounds. Somewhere, another person received a serious, but not life-threatening gunshot wound.

Sisk said the gunman said little besides directing her toward the college, about a mile to the southwest. He was quiet, non-emotive, with brown eyes, she said.

As she drove, crying and shaking, the gunman reassured her.

"He told me to calm down, 'You’ll be all right,' " Sisk said. "He said he'd let me go if I didn’t do anything stupid."

She pulled up to a dead end street at the college to let him out, then got out to put his bag on the curb. Sisk said she jumped in her car and drove as far down the street as she could, then got out and ran.

Sisk was not injured, but her car was riddled with bullets.

Near the school, the gunman's fire hit a red Ford Explorer. The SUV careened into a red concrete wall. The male driver died at the scene. The woman passenger is in critical condition, police said.

The gunman, pursued by officers, fled toward the campus library. More shots were fired, and this time, a woman in her 50s was hit; she died at the scene.

Officers chased the gunman into the library.

Students dropped to the floor, hid or fled. Tap dancers getting ready for their final performance locked the studio door and turned off the lights.

Officers ended the rampage with their own fire.

The shooter lay dead, a man thought to be 25 to 30 years old. He was dressed all in black. He wore a "tactical vest," which can deflect bullets, but not full body armor, police said.

In all, there were five to nine locations where the gunman fired rounds, either from the assault rifle or handguns. 

Police said they believe the shooter acted alone. A second person was briefly detained for questioning but was released. Police also rushed to another residence, near the intersection of Palms Boulevard and Centinela Avenue. They found no other victims but were looking for evidence, authorities said.

"We had a lot of shootings in a lot of areas in a short amount of time," said Sgt. Richard Lewis of the Santa Monica Police Department. "It’s a horrific event everybody wishes never happened.”

 

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Twitter: @howardblume | marisa.gerber@latimes.com | howard.blume@latimes.com | joseph.serna@latimes.com

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