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Police: Santa Monica gunman acted alone, killing

7:27 AM, Jun 8, 2013   |    comments
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A Santa Monica police officer leads children on a field trip from Citizens of the World Charter School in Los Angeles out of Santa Monica College, where they had gone for a planetarium show, following a shooting in the area, in Santa Monica, Calif., Friday. Reed Saxon, AP

In a series of violent confrontations Friday, a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle killed four people and wounded at least five others before being shot dead by police inside the Santa Monica College library, police said.

Santa Monica Police Sgt. Richard Lewis said in a news briefing late Friday that a lone gunman carried out the shootings, which resulted in nine crime scenes that spanned several blocks.

"It's a horrific event everyone wishes didn't happen," Lewis told the press.

Lewis also confirmed a "person of interest," who was taken into custody earlier in the day, "has been released and is not a suspect."

One of the dead was shot outside the library of the two-year college, where students were studying for or taking final exams.

The gunman, who was not immediately identified, was described as white or Latino with curly hair and 20 to 30 years old. Witnesses said he was dressed in black, wore body armor and a helmet and brandished a military-style assault rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and an ammunition belt.

He was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police in the library as students dived for cover or ran for safety. Lewis said. Beforehand, students, many wearing headphones, either did not hear or ignored several "pops."

The 38-acre main campus remained locked down throughout the afternoon while the bomb squad examined suspicious bags the gunman left behind. The gunman was found with a canvas bag that included a rifle, a handgun and magazines of ammunition, The lockdown was lifted late Friday, but the school remains closed.

Three women in a car were shot and wounded during what the Santa Monica police called a "series of random encounters." One later died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Another victim was in critical condition and one was in fair condition Friday night, the university hospital said.

Three other women, including one shot in a car, were treated for minor injuries at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. One had shrapnel-type injuries and the two others had injuries not related to gunfire. All were treated and released.

The series of incidents -- Santa Monica police said at least nine -- began when a gunman shot up and set fire to a home located about a mile from campus.

Capt. Jason Wells, of the Santa Monica Fire Department, said late Friday that the cause of the fire is undetermined, but is being investigated due to the suspicious circumstances.

Two bodies were found in the house on Yorkshire Avenue, a fire department spokesman told the Associated Press. At least one of the two men died from gunshots, sources told KABC-TV.

Two officials told the Associated Press that the killings began as a domestic violence incident and the victims in the home were the gunman's father and brother. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the case.

Jerry Cunningham Rathner, who lives nearby, told AP that she heard gunshots shortly before noon and then saw a man shooting at the neighbors' home. The residence quickly erupted in flames and billowing smoke.

She said the gunman then went to the corner and pointed a military-style rifle at a woman in a car, ordering her to pull over. He then motioned to another car to slow down before opening fire.

"He fired three to four shots into the car -- boom, boom, boom, right at her," Rathner told AP, adding the the driver was wounded only in the shoulder.

The gunman then carjacked a woman and shot at other vehicles on Pico Boulevard, including a transit bus and police vehicle.

"This guy just stepped out with a big rifle," Santa Monica College student Marta Fagerstroem, who was aboard the Metro bus, told KNBC-TV.

The gunman then fled, and police believe he went on to shoot several others along the Pico Boulevard area. One shooting occurred at 28th Street and Pico Boulevard, followed by one slaying at Pico and Cloverfield boulevards and two more near 19th and Pearl streets.

KABC-TV reported that another shooting, believed to be related, was reported on 21st Street, just east of campus. A witness said a man dressed in black got out of a vehicle and started shooting indiscriminately in the intersection.

The gunman eventually made his way onto campus. A lockdown was ordered and police evacuated some students.

Trena Johnson, a longtime administrative assistant working in the dean's office, looked out the window around noon Friday and saw a man with a "very large gun."

"We saw a woman get shot in the head," said Johnson. "I haven't been able to stop shaking."

In a staff parking lot, college employee Joe Orcutt said he saw the gunman standing calmly with his weapon, looking as though he was trying to determine which people to shoot at.

"I turn around and that's when he's just standing there, like he's modeling for some ammo magazine," Orcutt said. "He was very calm just standing there, panning around, seeing who he could shoot, one bullet at a time, like target practice."

Jimes Gillespie, who was studying in the library, told the Associated Press that he saw a gunman with a shotgun but also heard gunfire from a handgun.

Sam Luster was preparing for a presentation when he heard gunfire.

"We didn't know what was happening until all the students at the entrance of the library started running down towards the bottom of the library," he told KABC-TV. He then took cover under a desk before heading to the exit, where he heard multiple gun shots.

Chad Lazzari said several hundred students ran to a door that was locked on one side, causing panic. He said a car parked in the middle of the campus was riddled with bullets.

The college, with an enrollment of about 34,000, canceled afternoon and evening final exams at the main campus. All Santa Monica city schools were also placed on lockdown.

The day's violence occurred about three miles from where President Obama was appearing at a Democratic fundraiser. Authorities do not believe it was related to the president's visit. Obama was scheduled to helicopter back to the Los Angeles airport but instead traveled by motorcade "to avoid any impact on the ongoing local response to the shooting in the area," the White House press office said.

 

USA TODAY

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