Mass Murder Stuns Friends of Victims

Times Staff Writers

Across Santa Barbara County on Tuesday, the shock of a woman’s homicidal rampage through a Goleta postal facility reverberated through neighborhoods of tidy tract houses, mobile homes and apartment buildings.

The somber toll of deaths -- five plus that of 44-year-old shooter Jennifer Sanmarco, who committed suicide -- included a basketball-playing mom, a gardening grandfather and a widow just emerging from years-long grief.

In the tight-knit Lompoc neighborhood where Nicola Grant had lived for two decades, neighbors hugged in their front yards and mourned the sudden and shocking loss of a close friend.


Leslie Brown and Vickie Greene talked about raising their children with Drew and Nicola Grant’s two children, Martell and Monique, in the neighborhood of cul-de-sacs, tract homes and driveway basketball hoops.

Over the years they hung out together at youth basketball and soccer games, and shared summer outings in their backyards. It was not uncommon to see the 42-year-old Grant, a New York transplant, in the driveway shooting hoops with her children and other youngsters.

“She was such a joy. When you talked to her, she just glowed,” Brown said. “She loved her children, she loved her husband, and she loved living here.”

When Greene heard about the shooting Monday night, she had a sinking feeling in her stomach. Greene knew that Grant worked at the facility Monday through Friday until 9 p.m. She knew that when the shooting took place, Grant, a bulk mail technician, would have just been getting off work. Her mother and stepfather worked the same shift.

Greene said she looked out her bedroom window from across the street after 10 p.m. and saw that Grant’s car still wasn’t home. Greene’s daughter called Tuesday morning and broke the news.

“You don’t want it to happen to anyone, but when it’s your neighbor, it hits hard,” Greene said tearfully. “One of the links in our chain has been broken.”

Across town, in an isolated neighborhood atop a mesa, Guadalupe Swartz’s neighbors were struggling with the same sense of loss.

Neighbor Darlene Skura said she immediately thought of Swartz, 52, when she learned about the shooting Monday night. She sprinted next door to alert Swartz’s daughter, Jennifer, who had not heard the news. Soon after, Jennifer headed to the postal facility with her brother, Donnie.

Skura said that she spoke with Swartz’s children Tuesday morning and that they were understandably distraught.

Swartz, she said, had just returned to work Monday after a week’s vacation that she had spent puttering around her house. Every weekend, the two women would take their dogs to a nearby dog park.

Skura described Swartz as “a special lady, kindhearted and a good friend,” who was just emerging from a dark period after losing her husband, Donald, to cancer three years ago.

“She was becoming more active, starting to get on with her life,” Skura said.

At Dexter Shannon’s two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood of Oxnard, family members gathered privately.

Visitors carried covered pans of food through the tidy frontyard that the 58-year-old Shannon diligently tended. They passed two trees on the lawn, leafy green shrubs along the house and the row of reddish-orange flowers lining the walkway to the garage.

In a written statement, the family said Shannon “was raised in poverty in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” and served in the Air Force for four years, which included duty in Vietnam during the war.

He married Charlotte Anne Hernandez when he was 22. The couple had five children and six grandchildren.

At a six-unit apartment building on De La Vina Street in Santa Barbara, Marie Normand struggled Tuesday with “sadness, shock, disbelief” at the thought of what had befallen her neighbor the night before.

Twenty-eight-year-old postal worker Maleka Higgins had lived in the building with her husband and infant daughter. Only a few weeks before, Normand had knocked on Higgins’ door late at night asking to borrow a thermometer for her feverish son.

Normand described Higgins as an “energetic young woman with a beautiful family. She had that personality that you would want to get to know -- an always smiling, laughing, beautiful woman ... and so proud of that baby girl.”

The killing of 33-year-old Ze Vang Fairchild, a slight, handsome woman known for her vivacity, stunned the 60 employees of Santa Barbara Airbus, where Fairchild’s husband, Joe, worked as a dispatcher.

Eric Onnen, the chief executive officer of the charter bus and airport shuttle service, said the Fairchilds were devoted to their 6-year-old son Nicholas and coordinated their work shifts -- Joe worked days, his wife nights -- so that one of them could always be home with the boy.

Onnen visited Joe Fairchild on Tuesday morning at the latter’s residence in the Rancho Goleta mobile home park.

Affixed to the refrigerator, he said, was the couple’s wedding notice, more than a dozen years old.

“He was devastated that he couldn’t see his wife’s body,” Onnen said. “Joe mentioned that he didn’t kiss her goodbye last night. Instead she just waved goodbye and reminded him to give cold medicine to their son. He wondered, ‘How could this happen to someone like her, who was so perfect?’ ”

Joe Fairchild was unavailable, but left a message taped to the family’s mailbox:

“The family of Ze Fairchild wishes to thank the friends, neighbors and community for their support in this difficult time.... Please pray for all of the people we lost in this tragedy.”

Charlotte Colton’s passions are her three sons and Boy Scout Troop 1 in Santa Barbara.

She ran the local Pinewood Derby event, supervised scouts at Camp Chawanakee in the Sierras and sold astonishing amounts of popcorn -- $4,000 worth -- with her boys to raise money for the troop.

“She could have been a CEO, the way she managed to run those kids all over to their activities, work full-time and take care of a home,” said a former supervisor at the postal facility.

News that she had been shot and gravely wounded stunned her fellow parishioners of St. Raphael’s Catholic Church in Santa Barbara. A prayer vigil was held for her at the church Tuesday night.

Colton’s husband Jim, her parents and friends huddled in a private area at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital all day Tuesday, comforted by a chaplain.

“Any loss is difficult,” said Wayne Rascati, a deacon at St. Raphael’s, “but it’s hard to envision six families suffering both a communal and private loss, all at once.”

Times staff writers Gary Polakovic and James Ricci contributed to this report.