PICO BLVD — A man with a semi-automatic rifle killed at least four people and wounded several others Friday as he carried out a deadly rampage across several blocks of the Pico Neighborhood before police shot him dead in the Santa Monica College Library.
The violence began around 11:50 a.m. when the gunman, dressed in all black and wearing what appeared to be a ballistic jacket, opened fire on a house on the 2000 block of Yorkshire Avenue, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said.
When authorities responded they found the house engulfed in flames. Inside Santa Monica fire fighters found two bodies.
Officials said Friday night that the killings began as a domestic violence incident and the victims in the home were the gunman’s father and brother. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the case.
Police had not released the identity of the shooter or the victims by presstime.
As the house burst into flames, the shooter wounded a woman in a car before moving toward the campus, spraying bullets as he went. Police said he opened fire on a Big Blue Bus near the intersection of Pico and Cloverfield boulevards, a police car and other vehicles, as well as bystanders and pedestrians.
The driver of an SUV leaving a campus parking lot was killed and two passengers were wounded as the car crashed through a block wall.
From there, the gunman entered the campus, fatally wounding a woman as he made his way toward the college’s library, where students were studying for final exams.
“We saw a woman get shot in the head,” said administrative assistant Trena Johnson, who looked out the window of the dean’s office, where she works, when she heard gunfire. “I haven’t been able to stop shaking.”
Inside the library, students reported hearing gunfire and screams.
“I was totally scared to death and I can’t believe it happened so fast,” said Vincent Zhang, a 20-year-old economics major who said he heard a woman pleading, “No, no. Please, no.”
Officers engaged with the suspect and shot and killed him on scene.
The shooting spree unfolded about 3 miles from where President Barack Obama was attending a fundraising luncheon.
Secret Service spokesman Max Milien said the agency was aware of the shooting but it had no impact on the president’s event.
After the gunman was killed, police wearing helmets and armed with shotguns and rifles searched the campus for a possible second shooter. A man dressed entirely in black, the words “Life is a Gamble” on the back of his sweatshirt, was seen being led away in handcuffs.
Sgt. Richard Lewis, a Santa Monica police spokesman, said at a news conference Friday night that the man was questioned and released, and he is not a suspect.
Officers from multiple agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office and others assisted with the investigation, which is still ongoing.
At 8:28 p.m. SMC officials sent out an e-mail to students saying the campus was “now stabilized.”
All public schools in the city were locked down, including Santa Monica High School where seniors and their parents were anxiously awaiting graduation ceremonies. The lockdown was eventually lifted and the graduation was held as scheduled.
Three of the gunman’s victims died immediately. The woman near the library died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where she had been admitted in critical condition.
Two other women were also admitted to the hospital, said Dr. Marshall Morgan, the chief of emergency medicine. One was listed in critical condition after undergoing surgery. The other arrived in serious condition but was upgraded to fair condition Friday night.
Three other women went to UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica with relatively minor injuries, Morgan said. One had shrapnel-type injuries and the two others had injuries not related to gunfire, he said. All were treated and released.
Police had said earlier that seven people were killed, including the gunman, but they revised the death toll to a total of five at a news conference late Friday. Police said there initially were conflicting descriptions of some victims and they were counted twice.
Seabrooks, Fire Chief Scott Ferguson and SMC Police Chief Albert Vasquez all expressed their condolences to the victims and their families.
Assemblymember Richard Bloom also released a statement Friday promising to “assist in any way possible.”
“My thoughts are with the victims and their families following today’s senseless violence in Santa Monica. This incident unfolded within a few blocks of my home of 32 years. Yet, no community should have to endure something like this,” Bloom said.
Campus officials had crisis counselors available to students at the Bundy Campus Friday evening and said they would be there all weekend from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is also a crisis hotline for students and faculty to call — (866) 315-7370.
“We deplore this type of senseless violence,” said SMC President Chui Tsang. “It has become an unfortunate reality in today’s society, and it is the absolute antithesis of all that we stand for as an educational institution. Our hearts go out to the victims of these tragic incidents and their families.”
When the shootings took place students were in the middle of finals, which have since been canceled. There is no word yet on when they will be rescheduled.
Jerry Cunningham Rathner, who lives near the house where the killings began, said she heard gunshots and came out onto her porch to see a man shooting at the residence. Soon, the home erupted in flames and was billowing smoke.
The gunman, wearing an ammunition belt and ballistics vest, went to the corner and pointed a military-style rifle at a woman in a car and told her to pull over, Rathner said. He then signaled to a second car, also driven by a woman, to slow down and began firing into the vehicle.
“He fired three to four shots into the car — boom, boom, boom, right at her,” said Cunningham, who went to the woman’s aid and saw she was wounded in the shoulder.
“I can’t believe she didn’t have worse injuries,” Cunningham said.
She said the gunman then abducted the woman in the first car and drove away.
From there, the scene shifted to Santa Monica College, located in a neighborhood of strip malls and homes more than a mile inland from the city’s famous Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and its expansive, sandy beaches.
The suspect exited the car at Pico and Cloverfield boulevards and opened fire on nearby vehicles and a Big Blue Bus.
Suja Lowenthal with the bus system said two passengers on the Line 7 bus were wounded. One was reportedly grazed at the temple while another had a piece of glass hit the back of their head. They were transported to a nearby hospital for treatment.
The suspect then went onto campus, shooting as he went, and went into the library.
James Gillespie, 20, a second-year kinesiology student, was in the library at the time of the shooting. He was in the computer lab at the time on a social networking site when he saw people running in the halls around him.
He ducked down, stayed there for 20 seconds, got up and started going outside.
“I heard a shotgun blast, and then eight to 10 handgun shots,” Gillespie said.
Officials diverted students to the football field through the parking structure, Gillespie said.
As Gillespie ran across campus, he said he saw a car in front of the English building that was riddled with bullet holes, had shattered windows and a baby’s car seat in the back.
Another student, Khwanfa Wilepananon, said he and a friend were on the library’s third floor when they heard a loud bang and a woman’s scream coming from the first floor. As he and a friend fled downstairs, he said they heard two shots.
“It was so scary,” said Wilepananon. “It was so dark and I was scared. We didn’t know what to do.”
The two-year college, spread out across 38 acres, has about 34,000 students.
In a staff parking lot, college employee Joe Orcutt said he saw the gunman standing calmly with his weapon, looking as though he was trying to determine which people to shoot at.
“I turn around and that’s when he’s just standing there, like he’s modeling for some ammo magazine,” Orcutt said. “He was very calm just standing there, panning around, seeing who he could shoot, one bullet at a time, like target practice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.