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Santa Monica shootings: Students and staff struggle to cope

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Dozens of Santa Monica College students and staff members gathered at the school’s satellite campus Sunday as news spread that a fifth victim had succumbed to injuries suffered in Friday’s shooting rampage.

The mood was somber as students, faculty and others trickled onto the Bundy Avenue campus, a few miles from the main campus where the gunman had opened fired. Counseling services were already being offered before officials announced Sunday the death of student Marcela Franco, 26.

Franco and her father, Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, a groundskeeper at the college, were leaving the campus after buying books for her summer classes when the gunman opened fire on their SUV, college officials said. The elder Franco died at the scene and his daughter was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

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“I am saddened to report that Marcela Franco passed away this morning at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center,” college President Chui L. Tsang said in a statement posted on the school’s website. “Her family was with her by her side.... Our deepest sympathies go to the Franco family. At the appropriate time, the college will convene a campuswide memorial.”

The rampage was a premeditated act by an emotionally troubled person who armed himself with high-powered weapons, police said.

Authorities have not officially named the gunman, who was killed by police. But law enforcement sources in Washington and Los Angeles identified him as John Zawahri, 23. Several of the sources said Zawahri had a history of mental-health issues.

Police said the rampage lasted about 10 minutes, beginning just before noon Friday at a Yorkshire Avenue home where two people were killed. The gunman then cut a bloody path through a number of city streets before ending up on the Santa Monica College campus,

In addition to the Francos, a woman was fatally shot outside the school’s library.

Those who came for Sunday’s counseling services talked of trying to find a sense of normality and calm after the deadly rampage in their usually tranquil city.

Eric Minzenberg, an anthropology professor, said he was in his classroom Friday afternoon with about 25 students when the school was placed on lockdown. He locked the classroom door and barricaded it with desks and chair. He said that seeing police in their SWAT gear armed with guns and several helicopters circling overhead has left him shaken.

Some of his students witnessed far worse, Minzenberg said. Some were in the library when the gunman opened fire inside, and one saw police shoot and kill the gunman. Minzenberg said he sought support at the crisis counseling center, in hopes that by talking to a trained professional he could begin the healing process.

“I’m just feeling a little agitated and a little helpless in a situation like this,” he said. “One of our greatest fears is to have some mentally unstable student come and start shooting.”

Others, like Signe Elvin-Nowak, 22, who had supported friends who were on campus during the shooting, later sought help for themselves as they struggled to deal the traumatic event.

Elvin-Nowak said she opened her home after the school was placed on lockdown, since many of friends could not retrieve their cars. But she was not prepared for their graphic accounts. Her friend Marta Fagerstroem had been on the bus that was shot at by the gunman.

Elvin-Nowak said she came to the counseling center to receive the support she had offered to others.

“We have to go on with our lives as if nothing has happened, but there are several people” who died, she said. “The only thing we really can do is talk and talk and talk until we can’t talk anymore.”

Elvin-Nowak joined a group of people in the courtyard, where those seeking help comforted each other. As she talked to a counselor, she lifted her sunglasses and wiped away tears.

Her roommate, Sara Lindgren, was struggling to deal with “what if?” The fashion merchandising student usually hangs out in the library between classes and said she would have been there studying if she had not been off campus attending a school-sponsored fashion show.

Lindgren said she was not quite prepared to head back to the scene but has to take makeup finals Monday and one will be in the library, where the gunman was killed.

“We drove by our school yesterday and it was like an eerie feeling,” Lindgren said. “Everything looks the same, but it is not the same.”

On Monday, students will return to campus to heightened police presence, Santa Monica College Police Chief Albert Vasquez said. The president decided to hold the makeup finals that day, and graduation will take place Tuesday as planned. A vigil will be held at the graduation.

Elvin-Nowak said she will be at the graduation ceremony, receiving her degree in theater.

“It’s a weird ending to two great years,” she said.

ALSO:

Santa Monica shooting: One victim identified as Carlos Navarro Franco

Santa Monica shooting suspect, possible motive, identified, police say

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angel.jennings@latimes.com


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