A college and a community mourn their losses


Jane Walle was among the hundreds of people who gathered Monday night outside the Santa Monica College library to remember the victims of last week’s shooting rampage that shook this seaside city.

Like the students, staff and neighbors around her, she paced on the concrete until just after 6 p.m., then slowly began the trek to the football field for an hourlong gathering.

But just a few steps into her walk, she stopped short in front of a makeshift memorial strewn across a patch of asphalt. Yellow sunflowers, tall white candles and hearts cut out of red construction paper honored the five people slain Friday.


The victims’ names were written onto the hearts. It was all too much for Walle. She has lived on Pico Boulevard — the same street as the college — for 16 years and has a college-age son.

“You could see the fear in the students’ eyes,” said the 51-year-old woman, who witnessed some of the chaos unfold Friday. “I guess I’m just reliving it.”

Just days after authorities say 23-year-old John Zawahri killed five people in a rampage that ended at the college, the neighborhood gathered to mourn its losses. More than 500 people brought handmade signs, wore blue school buttons and T-shirts, and listened to their leaders speak of healing.

“I am grateful to my bones to be here with you tonight,” said Amber Katherine, a faculty member. “Thank you for showing up for each other.”

As dignitaries including Santa Monica’s mayor and the college president took to the stage one by one, onlookers wiped away tears from behind sunglasses. Victims’ family members clutched pictures of their loved ones. Some couples hugged, swaying from side to side.

The speeches were interspersed with songs and moments of silence At one point, the crowd sang “Amazing Grace.”


Syeda Jossain buried her head in boyfriend Guillermo Baez-Billegas’ shoulder as Mayor Pam O’Connor spoke. Jossain said she had a class recently with Marcela Franco, 26, who was gravely wounded in the shooting and later died.

“She was bubbly, she was always happy, she would always sit in the front of the class,” Jossain said of Franco. “When I found out it was someone I knew, it hit harder, you know? Not everybody can touch people’s hearts. But she definitely did.”

Jossain went home early, before the closing remarks or the mixing and mingling. As she trudged toward the exit, she locked her hand in her boyfriend’s, fresh tears streaming down her face.