PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — The Santa Monica man who killed six people, including his father and brother, last week during a shooting rampage that terrorized the Pico Neighborhood fired off at least 100 rounds from an assault rifle that he most likely assembled himself using legal parts ordered from various states, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said during a news conference Thursday that gunman John Zawahri, 23, made a request to purchase a firearm in 2011 but was denied by the state Department of Justice, possibly because of mental health issues and a run-in with police seven years ago when bomb-making materials were found at his house during a search prompted by threats to students, teachers and campus police officers at Olympic High School, a school for students with academic and disciplinary issues.
Seabrooks also revealed that officers found a three-to-four-page, handwritten “farewell” note on Zawahri’s body after he was killed by police on the main campus of Santa Monica College. In the note Zawahri expressed remorse for killing his family members, said goodbye to several friends and expressed hope that his mother would be taken care of financially.
“We know that he lived a troubled life and experienced mental health problems and we believe his mental health challenges likely played a role … ,” Seabrooks told reporters.
In addition to the rifle, Zawahri made modifications to an antique black-powder .44 revolver so that it could fire .45-caliber bullets, Seabrooks said. That revolver was fully loaded and found in a duffle bag Zawahri carried with him onto the SMC campus. In that bag police also found roughly 1,300 rounds of ammunition in magazines capable of holding 30 rounds each.
Zawahri’s 13-minute shooting spree on June 7 covered roughly 1.5 miles between his father’s home on Yorkshire and Kansas avenues and SMC. Zawahri shot his father and brother to death in the home, set fire to it and then carjacked a woman and forced her to drive him to the college after shooting another driver in a passing car.
Along the way he fired at a Big Blue Bus and several vehicles, including an SUV driven by SMC groundskeeper Carlos Franco and his 26-year-old daughter Marcela, killing them both. While making his way to the SMC library, Zawahri also shot and killed 68-year-old Margarita Gomez, who was on campus that day collecting recyclables.
After firing roughly 70 rounds in the library, hitting no one, Zawahri was confronted by two officers with the Santa Monica Police Department and another with the SMC Police Department, who opened fired and killed him.
Once on the scene of the home, fire fighters found the bodies of Zawahri’s father and brother in a back room uninvolved in the blaze. The house was found unkempt with files and papers scattered throughout, providing ample kindling.
In Zawahri’s room, investigators found at least two zip guns capable of firing live ammunition, several replicas, knives and gun or ammo publications and brochures.
“That’s what he was into,” said Sgt. Richard Lewis, an SMPD spokesman.
Investigators also found a drill press among other materials that indicate he likely assembled the weapon.
The drill press is used to help finish building the rifle by drilling holes in the lower receiver. A lower receiver that is only 80 percent complete can easily be purchased, and because it is not complete, a person isn’t required to go through a background check.
In California such weapons require a “bullet button” kit, which needs to be added to a lower parts kit to make it legal. The bullet button kit modifies the weapon so that a separate tool must be used to release an ammunition magazine and reload the gun; without such a modification a person can press a button to release the magazine.
The high-capacity ammo magazines Zawahri had are illegal to purchase, sell or transfer in California, police said.
Seabrooks said Zawahri’s mother has cooperated with investigators, who are now in the process of interviewing those mentioned in Zawahri’s letter.
Santa Monica police plan to work with the FBI to understand Zawahri’s psychological makeup and motivation, Seabrooks said.
It is unclear why Zawahri wanted to be driven to SMC, where he was a student as recently as 2010.
Police said Zawahri was not employed or enrolled in school at the time of the shooting.
When Zawahri was held for a mental health evaluation seven years ago the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Board of Education was briefed by school administrators after police found Zawahri was learning to make explosives by downloading instructions from YouTube, school board member Oscar de la Torre said.
Retired police officer Cristina Coria, who helped serve the search warrant, said Zawahri was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation at the time. She didn’t know the outcome of the evaluation.
Police declined to provide further details, saying Zawahri was a minor at the time. But once a person is held for such an exam, they cannot access or possess firearms for five years.
In the case of Zawahri, that prohibition would have expired in 2011.
Santa Monica police said they will work with the ATF to understand how he came to possess the components to assembly the AR 15-type rifle that shot a .223 caliber bullet.
Seabrooks commended the work of the officers who stopped Zawahri before he could take more victims and expressed appreciation for the support public safety officials have received from the community in the wake of the deadly rampage.
“That these officers were able to take direct action and stop a very real threat before more lives were lost is a testament to their bravery and to their attentiveness to the training, which is derived from the lessons learned from mass shootings, which have occurred across the country and about which we have become all too familiar.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.