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Two More People Shot Near Santa Monica College

Santa Monica, still reeling from last week's shooting rampage that killed five and ended with the gunman's death in the community college library, was forced Tuesday to absorb news of another episode of gun violence.

About 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, two men standing in an alley in the 1500 block of Michigan Avenue, near the campus, were shot when a gunman walked up and opened fire, Santa Monica police Sgt. Richard Lewis said. The gunman ran to a vehicle, believed to be a blue Infiniti, and drove off westbound on Michigan.

The victims, described only as 25 to 35 years old, suffered multiple gunshot wounds to their upper bodies. Paramedics took both to a trauma center, where one man later died and the second remains in critical condition, police said.

Lewis said Tuesday's incident was unrelated to either Friday's rampage or to a shooting on Sunday.

In the Sunday incident, police said, shots were fired at a 32-year-old man riding a bicycle along the 2900 block of Exposition Boulevard about a mile from the college campus. The cyclist was hit three times and was in stable condition Tuesday, Lewis said. Police were seeking Levy Ernesto Rodriguez, 24, of Santa Monica in connection with the shooting. Lewis said the incident was possibly gang-related.

The wave of shootings have shaken the generally prosperous and safe coastal city.

"Despite a well-earned reputation as a relatively safe city, certainly Santa Monica has been rocked by these shootings," said Mayor Pam O'Connor. "The community is understandably shocked and concerned."

Residents, she said, "draw strength from our community ties, and we're going to work together to both heal from this and build a strong, resilient community."

Tuesday night's City Council meeting opened with a moment of silence and some remarks, particularly about the shooting rampage Friday in which heavily armed gunman John Zawahri fatally shot five people before being slain by police in the Santa Monica College library.

Across town on Tuesday evening, students, parents, faculty and dignitaries gathered at the campus for the school's graduation ceremony. Gov. Jerry Brown sent combined congratulations and condolences to the college, praising graduates for their achievements while acknowledging that Friday's mass shooting "cast a pall over what should have been a purely joyful day."

In a letter to college President Chui L. Tsang, Brown called Zawahri's actions "senseless and violent."

For the most part, the commencement ceremony proceeded much as any graduation would. Students in royal blue caps and gowns streamed onto metal bleachers to the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance" as friends and family waved, their cameras snapping.

But Tsang's opening remarks, and just about every speech that followed, mentioned Friday's tragedy even while focusing mostly on the accomplishments of the grads.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias, the commencement speaker, called the students' graduation "a milestone archived in a time of trial."

"It is a mark of our times that milestones that are to be celebrated are so often accompanied by sadness and uncertainty -- sometimes on the other side of the world and sometimes in our own backyards and our own communities," he said. "These are the times that you have inherited."

The commencement followed a day in which new details emerged about the troubled gunman behind Friday's brief but bloody rampage. Oscar de la Torre, a longtime Santa Monica-Malibu Unified board member, said he recalled being briefed by school administrators in 2006 after police discovered materials that could be used to make a pipe bomb in Zawahri's home. They searched the residence after Zawahri threatened classmates at a continuation high school.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Supt. Sandra Lyon confirmed Tuesday that Zawahri was removed from the continuation school in 2006 after being identified as at risk of committing violence. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that a veteran English teacher saw Zawahri surfing the Internet for assault weapons.

Lyon told The Times that a teacher observed "disturbing behaviors" from Zawahri "around his discussion of weapons and violence." District officials contacted law enforcement, she said, and Zawahri was eventually removed from public schools.

According to authorities, Friday's violence began when Zawahri killed his father, Samir, 55, and brother, Christopher, 25, at their Yorkshire Avenue home in Santa Monica and set the structure on fire. He then carjacked a motorist and forced her at gunpoint to drive him to Santa Monica College. Along the way, he fired on other vehicles, including a sport utility vehicle carrying Carlos Franco, 68, a groundskeeper at the college, and his daughter, Marcela, 26. Both died.

After entering the campus, Zawahri shot and killed Margarita Gomez, 68, known to campus regulars for collecting cans to recycle. He then entered the library, where he was rushed and killed by police.

The fatal shootings have altered the crime picture in Santa Monica. Lewis said that, as of Monday, crime in Santa Monica was down 10% compared with the same time last year. The L.A. Times Homicide Report shows that one homicide occurred in Santa Monica in 2012 and two the previous year.

"Santa Monica's a very quiet city," Lewis said. The neighborhood near the college "has in the past -- not for a few years now -- been subject to a few shootings, some gang violence."

Copyright 2013 - Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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