The man who killed five people in Santa Monica in a shooting rampage had shown an interest in assault weapons as early as 2006, according to a teacher at his old high school.
A veteran English teacher at Olympic High, Santa Monica’s alternative school for students who have struggled in traditional programs, reported to the principal that John Zawahri, the solitary teen who regularly ditched class, was surfing the Internet for assault weapons.
Alarmed, he sent Zawahri to the principal’s office. Within days, the police were involved and Zawahri was admitted to UCLA‘s psychiatric ward.
The teacher, who requested anonymity, recounted the 2006 incident as focus turned to what motivated Zawahri to kill his brother, father and three others Friday as he indiscriminately shot at vehicles and pedestrians across three locations in Santa Monica.
Zawahri, 23, was killed in the Santa Monica College library after gunning down a woman outside the building and a father and daughter in an SUV in the parking lot.
Why Zawahri targeted the college remained unclear. A school spokesman said Zawahri, as well as his father and brother, had been part-time students there, but there was no indication that Zawahri had animosity toward the school.
A woman who was carjacked by Zawahri said he specifically demanded to be taken to the college.
“There is no history of any kind of disciplinary issue with him in our records,” said Don Girard, a senior director at the college.
He said transcripts show Zawahri was “sporadically” enrolled in the school’s entertainment technology program in 2009 and 2010, taking courses in animation and video game development. School records show he had not been on campus for class since the fall of 2010.
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 young man said 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.
Santa Monica police have said its officers dealt with the gunman in connection with an incident in 2006 but declined to provide details because he was a juvenile at the time. School officials referred questions to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Supt. Sandra Lyon, who declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Court records and interviews suggested Zawahri’s upbringing was marred by the marital strife of his parents, immigrants from Lebanon. The couple separated on at least two occasions, with his father filing for divorce in 1993.
That year, teacher Wendy Parise encountered 4-year-old John and his mother, Randa Abdou, in a special education program at a Santa Monica public preschool.
“He was very withdrawn and clingy to his mother,” Parise recalled Monday. “It was obvious to me there was trauma in the home.”
Police on Monday said Zawahri had ammunition strapped to his body--including his chest and thighs--as well as in pouches in his clothing and protective vest. More ammunition was found in a black bag. In all, he had approximately 40 magazines capable of holding 30 bullets.
Authorities say they do not have a precise count of the number of rounds used by the former student but said it was expected to be more than 1,000.
[For the Record, 7:54 a.m. PDT, June 11, 2013: An earlier version of this online post referred to a father and mother being killed outside the library. The two victims were father and daughter.]