The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District superintendent confirmed Tuesday the gunman who killed five last week was removed from a continuation high school in 2006 after being identified as at risk of committing violence.
Superintendent Sandra Lyon told The Times that a teacher observed “disturbing behaviors” from John Zawahri “around his discussion of weapons and violence.” District officials contacted law enforcement, she said, and Zawahri was eventually removed from the public schools.
“He did demonstrate some threats towards students and we did act immediately on that, called law enforcement, and at that point they took over,” Lyon said. “He clearly had exhibited interest in weapons; the teacher saw that, and acted on it.”
Lyon declined to discuss the details of Zawahri’s tenure at Olympic High School. But The Times reported Monday that a veteran English teacher saw Zawahri surfing the Internet for assault weapons.
Zawahri's school history may provide insight into his mind-set in the months and years leading up the shootings.
On Friday, authorities say, Zawahri first killed his father, Samir, 55, and older brother, Christopher, 25, at their Yorkshire Avenue home before carjacking a motorist and forcing her at gunpoint to drive him to the campus.
Along the way he fired on other vehicles, including a sedan, a bus and a sport utility vehicle carrying Santa Monica College groundskeeper Carlos Franco, 68, and his daughter, Marcela, 26. Both died.
Police identified his last victim Monday as Margarita Gomez, a 68-year-old woman who was visiting the campus to collect aluminum cans.
Zawahri attended public schools in Santa Monica, studying briefly at Santa Monica High School, where one classmate said he remembered him as a silent boy who favored black hooded sweat shirts.
Later at Olympic he made few friends. After word spread through school about his Web-surfing for assault weapons, a classmate approached the English teacher with a disturbing tale, the teacher recalled Monday.
The student said that Zawahri had invited him to his home, showed him a samurai sword and named other students at Olympic whom he wanted to hurt, the teacher said.
He said he informed the principal, and within days police had searched Zawahri's home and he was taken to UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. He did not remain in the hospital long, which shocked school officials, the teacher recalled.
"We all said, why in hell did they let him out? But they had their legal reasons," the teacher said.
On Tuesday, Lyon confirmed that Zawahri returned to school briefly, but ultimately left the district's rolls in 2007. He had attended the district’s public schools since 1999, Lyon said, and was eventually transferred to Olympic High School “due to some credit deficiencies and attendance issues.”
“We have processes for identifying students who may be at risk of violence either toward themselves or others, and we have professionals who work with those students,” she said. “And that is certainly what happened in this case. He was identified as someone that we needed to give extra attention to, and that was obviously why he was placed at our continuation high school.
“People are trying to piece together information so we can explain the unthinkable, and I want to let my community know that we do have policies and practices in place that really allow us to intervene,” Lyon saidd. “And in this instance, I can assure everyone that our district really did do its job.”
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