By Steve Gorman and Dana Feldman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The California gunman who killed five people in a rampage through Santa Monica last week before he was slain by police spent at least three days as a teenager in the psychiatric unit of a hospital, police said on Monday.
John Zawahri, who was shot and killed at Santa Monica College on Friday, the day before his 24th birthday, had been taken into custody and placed under a 72-hour “psychiatric hold” in 2006, when he would have been 16 or 17 years old, Santa Monica police spokesman Sergeant Richard Lewis said.
The incident seven years ago resulted in police being called to his family’s home, where Friday’s carnage began with the double-slaying of Zawahri’s father and brother and a fire that consumed part of the house.
California law allows police to involuntarily confine a person for at least 72 hours in the psychiatric unit of a hospital if that individual is deemed a danger to oneself or others or is “gravely disabled.”
Police continue to investigate what might have led the former Santa Monica College student to lash out in a spasm of gun violence that claimed a total of six lives, including his own. Police believe the shooting was “domestic-related,” Lewis said.
The suspect’s parents, who were divorced, Samir Zawahri, 55, and Randa Abdou, are natives of Lebanon who immigrated to the United States years ago and later became U.S. citizens. The gunman was born in the United States and grew up in California.
“There is no evidence in the case to indicate that the suspect was motivated by extremist ideology or that the suspect had any links to terror groups,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
VIOLENCE APPEARS ROOTED IN FAMILY ISSUES
The Los Angeles Times, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, has reported that Zawahri was upset over his parents’ divorce. The mother claimed she was a victim of domestic violence in a petition for a temporary restraining order filed against the father in 1998.
The Times also anonymously quoted a friend of the family as saying Zawahri had struggled with mental health problems and “had a fascination with guns” that worried those close to him. That could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.
A Santa Monica College spokesman, Don Girard, said Zawahri attended classes on a “sporadic” basis from early 2009 through the fall of 2010, always enrolling in “entertainment technology” courses related to video game design, animation and digital media.
The college has no record of any behavioral issues or problems between Zawahri and other students and staff, Girard said.
The mother had worked for two years at a popular restaurant, the Rose Cafe, in Venice Beach, and had taken a leave of absence to visit her ailing mother, reportedly in Lebanon. She was away at the time of the shootings, the eatery’s management said in a statement.
Authorities believe the rampage started when Zawahri shot his father and older brother, Chris Zawahri, 25, and set fire to the family home, where Lewis said the gunman himself had been living. He then carjacked a woman and forced her at gunpoint to drive to Santa Monica College as he fired at passing traffic and a city bus, police said. She escaped unharmed.
At the college, he fatally shot two people in a car, college groundskeeper Carlos Franco, 68, and his daughter, Marcela Dia Franco, 26, who had just enrolled for summer classes at the school, police said.
He then gunned down another woman outside the campus library, traded shots with police and walked into the library firing away as students scurried for cover. The rampage ended when Zawahri was killed by police who pursued him into the library.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)