Official: Santa Monica College gunman had bomb materials in 2006
Oscar de la Torre, a longtime member of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board, said police in 2006 found materials that could be used to make a pipe bomb in the home of the gunman who killed five people on Friday in Santa Monica.
Police searched the home after John Zawahri threatened fellow high school students.
De la Torre was a neighbor of Samir Zawahri, the gunman’s father, in Santa Monica’s Pico neighborhood. Although the elder Zawahri was reserved, De la Torre said, he mentioned about eight months ago that he was having trouble with his younger son. John Zawahri, 23, killed his father, 55, and brother Christopher, 25, in last week’s shooting rampage.
Earlier Tuesday, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon confirmed that Zawahri was removed from a continuation high school in 2006 after being identified as at risk of committing violence.
Lyon told The Times that a teacher observed “disturbing behaviors” from Zawahri “around his discussion of weapons and violence.” District officials contacted law enforcement, she said, and Zawahri was eventually removed from the public schools.
The Times reported Monday that a veteran English teacher saw Zawahri surfing the Internet for assault weapons.
“He did demonstrate some threats toward 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.”
It was around that time that police searched the home and found the materials that could be used to make a pipe bomb. De la Torre said that he and other school board members were briefed by school administrators about the police investigation at the time.
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 High School 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 psychiatric ward. 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.
Lyon declined to further discuss the details of Zawahri’s tenure at Olympic 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 said. “And in this instance, I can assure everyone that our district really did do its job.”
News about the bomb-making materials were first reported by the Associated Press.
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