Crime & Justice

Santa Monica shooter John Zawahri showed early fascination with weapons, school officials say

Weapons collected as evidence after a shooting spree in Santa Monica and displayed at a press conference on Saturday, June 8, 2013.
Weapons collected as evidence after a shooting spree in Santa Monica and displayed at a press conference on Saturday, June 8, 2013.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Update 7:42 p.m.: School officials say Zawahri had early fascination with weapons

School officials said a fascination with weapons got John Zawahri into trouble years before he allegedly took the lives of five people on a shooting rampage in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica school board member Oscar de la Torre recalled that a teacher found Zawahri with "materials and things that could be used to make explosives or make what they term a pipe bomb."
However, De la Torre said Zawahri didn't seem to be a threat.

"It wasn't seen as someone who's planning to do something to harm others," he said. Rather, Zawahri was seen as someone with a fascination for military tactics.

The incident happened at a continuation school, Olympic High in Santa Monica, where he'd transferred after getting low grades and missing too many days of school at Santa Monica High School in 2006.

School district Superintendent Sandra Lyon looked up the incident in her records. She said she couldn't confirm he'd been found with pipe bomb materials, but she said something triggered a mental health assessment.
"There was a teacher who observed some disturbing behaviors and discussions around weapons and violence," Lyons said. "And as a result, the staff there pulled together and did an assessment they called the [Santa Monica Police Department]."
The Associated Press quoted a former school resource officer who said he was present when police served a search warrant on Zawahri's home looking for weapons or explosives.

The Associated Press reported that Zawahri was held for a mental evaluation at a hospital. Under California law, that could have been enough to put him on the list of people who are barred from owning weapons, at least temporarily.

But so far, police have not said who owned the AR-15 style rifle and .44 caliber revolver and 13-hundred rounds of ammo Zawahri took on his shooting rampage — or how he got them.
Zawahri grew up in a household with a tense and abusive relationship between his mother and father, according to court records.  His mother accused his father of physical abuse and intimidation in filings with the court. When the couple split up, Zawahri moved in with his father and his brother lived with their mother.

Update 4:19 p.m.: Gunman was held for mental evaluation, bomb-making

A retired Santa Monica police officer says the gunman who killed five people last week was held for mental evaluation by hospital staff after police raided his home for explosives seven years ago.

Former police officer Cristina Coria says 23-year-old John Zawahri made violent threats to another student, teachers and campus police officers while a student at Olympic High School. Coria says she helped serve a search warrant on Zawahri's home months later looking for explosives and weapons.

Related: Origin, ownership and legality of weapons in Santa Monica shooting under investigation

School board member Oscar de la Torre says officers found bomb-making materials.

Coria says Zawahri was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Police would not divulge details of his record because he was a juvenile. Zawahri was killed Friday by police after a gun battle in the Santa Monica College library.