Daily Press Staff Writer
It’s been over four years since a 23-year-old gunman went on a rampage across Santa Monica, murdering five people and leaving a burned down home, a bullet-riddled bus, and the image of a killer in the SMC library in his wake.
Since then, the onslaught of mass shootings in America seems unrelenting: Isla Vista, Charleston, Chattanooga, Roseburg, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Orlando and most recently and egregiously, Las Vegas.
When Officer Robert Sparks hears about the latest killing spree, his mind inevitably flashes back to the day he shot John Zawahri. Sparks is one of several first responders who participated in a Showtime documentary series “Active Shooter: America Under Fire.” This Friday’s episode focuses on the Santa Monica rampage.
“I think everyone wants an easy answer and an easy fix to societal problems but there’s not,” Sparks said in a recent interview with the Daily Press. “Our episode really shows that.
People don’t realize how much work goes into the investigation and how much we try to piece it together.”
The investigation into the events in June 2013 in Santa Monica never found a definitive motive for the killing spree.
Zawahri’s 55-year-old father, Samir, and 24-year-old brother, Christopher, were among the victims in the attack.
Investigators found a three-page handwritten note on Zawahri’s body expressing remorse for killing his father and brother but did not say why he did it.
In the wake of the shooting, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said the young man had mental health problems. Two years before the shootings, the Department of Justice denied Zawahri’s request to purchase a firearm, possibly because of mental health issues or because bomb making materials had been found in his home while he was a student at Olympic High School.
Sparks one of four officers to receive a National Medal of Valor from President Barack Obama for his response to the shooting He says the episode will have new insights even for those who have followed the investigation closely over the years. Notably, Zawahri’s own mother speaks out in the episode.
“I’m a parent too,” Sparks said. “I see her as a parent.
A grieving parent with a lot of unanswered questions she has for her child.
I thought about that from day one after the incident.
It’s very sad. She lost her whole immediate family in a few hours. I empathize with her. I couldn’t imagine the pain and what she’s gone through.”
The Santa Monica episode is the fifth of eight in the documentary series exploring mass shootings.
Next week will delve into a white supremacist’s deadly attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The series will end with an episode on Columbine.
Sparks says the high school shooting marked a turning point for law enforcement and the extensive training he’s done since that massacre in 1999 helped prepare him to run toward the gunfire at Santa Monica College.
As an officer, Sparks doesn’t get into politics or policy. He just knows if it happens here again, he will be ready. At the moment, he says the massacres are hard to stop.
“You never know what’s really going on or what people are thinking,” Sparks said. “If we knew we could stop a lot of these crimes but we don’t.”
Active Shooter: America Under Fire airs Friday, Nov. 3 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.