Police probe Santa Monica gunman's home, find violent past
The gunman's family had a history of violence, police learned, as they tried to find out how the man obtained so much ammo
By Amy Taxin and Tami Abdollah
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The mother of a gunman who fatally shot five people during a rampage on a Southern California college campus said her husband became abusive five years into their marriage when she moved from Lebanon to join him in the U.S., according to court records obtained by The Associated Press.
Seeking a restraining order in 1998, gunman John Zawahri's mother, Randa Abdou, wrote that her husband once told her: "If I had a gun it would be over."
Investigators were trying to determine whether the family's problems played any role in the killings, which came Friday as Santa Monica College students were taking final exams. Authorities were tracing the firearms to determine the owner and how Zawahri was in possession of so much ammunition.
Abdou also said her husband had threatened to take their two young sons to Canada after the couple separated at the time, and that he once punched her and stole her jewelry, purse and divorce papers she had started filling out.
Authorities said John Zawahri, 23, shot his father, Samir Zawahri, and his brother, Christopher Zawahri, on Friday, leaving their home in flames before shooting at strangers in cars and at Santa Monica College during a 15-minute rampage.
The former student at the school was heavily armed and carried a duffel bag with 1,300 rounds of ammunition before officers killed him in the campus library.
Abdou cut short a visit with family in Lebanon to return to Los Angeles on Sunday and had spoken with investigators, who hoped she could provide clues to what sparked the violence.
Neighbor Beverly Meadows said Abdou told her by phone Monday that she was in mourning and concerned about those who were hurt.
Abdou has not spoken to the media.
"Please respect the fact that this woman is devastated," Meadows said. "She is absolutely overwhelmed and she doesn't know how to process it. She sounds like she's done nothing but cry. ... She still feels like maybe she should have done something."
Besides the two Zawahris, the victims included Carlos Navarro Franco, 68, and his daughter Marcela Franco, 26. They were gunned down as he pulled his vehicle out of a parking lot at the college, where he worked as a landscaper and she was a student.
On Monday, campus Police Chief Albert Vasquez identified the fifth victim as Margarita Gomez, 68, of Santa Monica. She was a nonstudent known for collecting recyclables at the site and was shot outside the library.
Students returned to campus Monday to complete exams and recover backpacks, cars and other items left behind when they fled and the school was closed. Extra security and counselors were on hand but the library remained off-limits. In the evening hundreds gathered on campus for a vigil in honor of the victims.
Kelly Williams, 19, said she was nervous about coming to campus to take a psychology final but felt better once she saw a police car parked outside.
"It's kind of scary because it just happened and you don't know if it will happen again," she said.
Zawahri enrolled in the winter of 2009 and last attended in fall 2010, taking classes in the entertainment technology program, which involves video game design, animation and computer skills for digital media, the college said in a statement that also reported no disciplinary issues with Zawahri.
Zawahri has a record with Santa Monica police but the department has not disclosed any details because he was a juvenile at the time.
Neighbors have described Zawahri as reclusive and said his 55-year-old father was friendly though not overly social. It's unclear how long the pair lived together. His 25-year-old brother lived with his mother.
Zawahri's parents married in 1985, and in the mid-1990s his father brought his family to the Santa Monica neighborhood of small homes and apartment buildings tucked up against Interstate 10, according to property records.
When Zawahri was 9, his now-separated mother sought the restraining order.
In the 1998 document, Abdou said she left Lebanon and joined her husband in the U.S. five years after their wedding, and the couple "have had marital troubles ever since."
Her husband had been "verbally abusive and controlling," she stated, adding that she was afraid he might do something "drastic because he seems to become increasingly angry and frustrated over our separation."
Abdou said her husband has "followed me, struck me, taken the children without telling me, and entered my apartment without my permission and removed photographs."
He once came to the apartment and told her that he was going to take the children to Canada, she said.
"The defendant said that he would do anything to make my life miserable and that he could kill me and no restraining order can stop him," she said.
Her husband waited for her at work once, and when she pulled up in a car with a friend, he struck her in the arm, pulled her hair, took gold bracelets, her purse and divorce papers she had not completed, she said.
She was afraid to press charges, she added, because he scared her and she didn't want to enrage him further. "The defendant has told me that life means nothing to him if we are not together," she said.
Abdou asked the court to order the return of her property, including her green card, and to grant her custody of the couple's two sons pending a court hearing. Her request for a restraining order requiring Samir Zawahri to stay 100 yards from his wife and the kids was granted for a couple weeks. But it expired when she failed to appear for a full hearing on the matter.
She wrote that she had filed the petition for the restraining order without notifying him because she was afraid, saying, "I do not know how he would react to the notice."
Court records indicated that Samir Zawahri filed for divorce in 1993, but it was never finalized.
Five years later, when Abdou filed court papers for the restraining order, she noted that no divorce was pending, but she indicated that she had been in the process of filling out divorce papers. It's unclear if the couple ever divorced.
Public records show that Abdou sold her portion of the family home to Samir Zawahri in 2002. The sale was finalized the following year.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press
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