Mixed emotions at Santa Monica ceremony and memorial today

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Police cruiser at scene of shooting in Santa Monica. (AP Photo)

Police cruiser at scene of shooting in Santa Monica. (AP Photo)

SANTA MONICA (CNS) – Joy will mix with grief today when Santa Monica College holds a graduation ceremony that will double as a memorial for the victims of last week’s shooting rampage, which ended at the school.

Students returned to the campus amid heightened security Monday to continue taking final exams, while counselors were on hand to speak with anyone still distraught by Friday’s violence, which claimed five lives, plus the gunman’s.   A vigil was held Monday evening in front of the SMC campus library.

USC President C.L. Max Nikias will be the speaker at this evening’s graduation ceremony, which is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. with a moment of silence for the victims.

Nikias himself is no stranger to campus violence. His campus was the scene of a shooting that injured four people during a Halloween party in October, and two USC graduate students from China were shot and killed in a shooting outside the campus in April of 2012.

Authorities have identified the gunman blamed for last week’s violence as John Zawahri, who would have turned 24 Saturday. He was shot and killed by police in the campus library Friday.

The victims were identified as the gunman’s father, Samir Zawahri, 55; his brother, Christopher Zawahri, 24; Marcela Dia Franco, 26, who died Sunday; her father, Carlos Franco, 68; and Margarita Gomez, 68, who was seen regularly on campus collecting recyclables from trash cans.

Marcela Franco wanted to be a clinical psychologist. When her school, Cal State Dominguez Hills, couldn’t provide the units she needed to graduate in the fall, she decided to take the courses at Santa Monica, where her father worked for 22 years as a groundskeeper. She and her father were leaving the campus after purchasing books for her classes when they were shot Friday.

The young woman was surrounded by family members when she died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Sunday, according to the hospital. Her father was killed instantly as the two were shot in his red SUV as they drove out of a college parking lot near 20th and Pearl streets.

One shooting victim, identified as Debra Fine, was in good condition and  released from the hospital Saturday night.

The killing spree began about a mile from the SMC campus around midday Friday, when fire broke out at a home near Yorkshire and Kansas avenues, and the bodies of Samir and Christopher Zawahri were found inside.

The gunman then carjacked a woman, who told the Los Angeles Times that the man ordered her to drive him to SMC. He made her stop at various points on the way, where he fired randomly at people and vehicles, including a Santa Monica Big Blue Bus.

He eventually got out of the woman’s car and ran onto the campus and into the library, where he was killed by police.

Investigators were still working today to determine what triggered the rampage. Court records showed that Zawahri’s parents went through a bitter split in the late 1990s that included a request by his mother, 54-year-old Randa Abdou, for a restraining order against his father.

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