Santa Monica Lookout
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A Killing Spree Hits Home in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Ann K. Williams
Special to The Lookout

June 10, 2013 -- I was feeling pretty good, pretty energetic Friday morning. I'd run the length of Palisades Park and back, overlooking the ocean, finishing off with a sprint that left me out of breath and euphoric.

When I got back to my home at 21st and Pearl streets, I decided to do the dishes. I was standing at the kitchen sink, looking out our back window in the general direction of Pico Boulevard, wondering what else to do before it was time for my afternoon reading group. That night we were going to go to a Dodgers game – my first, in spite of having lived in L.A. for almost 40 years.

I thought I heard a loud noise outside, but the water was running, so I wasn't sure. Then I heard a siren go off. I kept hearing strange noises, so I turned off the water. It sounded like somebody had dropped something really heavy off a scaffold, somewhere near the college, then the sound repeated a couple of times. That, plus the now plural sirens, fit together – I realized I was probably hearing something like gunfire, though it was much louder than the pop pop pop of handguns I'd heard in the past.

Fact is, I've never heard so much gunfire at any address I've lived in as I have on our peaceful looking corner in Sunset Park, and I've lived in some pretty sketchy neighborhoods.

I still figured it wasn't anything too out of the ordinary, probably a stick-up at the corner liquor store. Bad enough, but nothing that hadn't happened before.

Then the helicopters moved in. Again, nothing that unusual, but loud, persistent. Hmm, I thought. Maybe this is a good time to get out of the neighborhood. I'd been thinking about washing the car anyway, so I went outside to our driveway.

Lots of people were standing on the street. Looky-loos, I thought. They ought to be inside. Oh well, I wasn't either. A woman on the sidewalk said, you should go back inside. I told her I was leaving the area, probably a good idea if something bad was happening. She said, well, don't go that way, pointing to the college.

“Hmmph,” I thought, driving away. Who was she to tell me to go inside when she wasn't? I didn't realize then that these were people who'd fled the college.

As I drove away, I heard more sirens and saw an EMT speed toward the college on Ocean Park Boulevard. This was looking worse than I'd figured.

Still, going to the car wash, getting away, seemed smart. If stuff was still going on when I got back, I'd know it was really serious.

It was.

On my way back from the carwash, I stopped at Bob's. The cashiers were talking quietly among each other, looking serious. I asked one of them, what's going on? She said there was a shooting in the SMC library. A guy came in and told her, she said. He was really scared. “That's terrible,” I said.

By the time I got home, there were lots of people on the sidewalks. Looky-loos, I still figured, and rather than talk to them, it seemed better to go inside. I turned on the TV. That's when I began to get an idea of how bad it really was.

For the next hour, I watched confusing reports. No one had a clear sense of what was happening.

There was a house fire. There was a shooting near the fire. There was a shooting at Cloverfield and Pico. A bus was shot. A witness said he saw a man get out of a car with an assault rifle and spray fire the length of the street, “ten rounds,” he said. There was a shooting at the library. Nobody knew how many people had been shot. Nobody knew if the fire was related to the shootings.

The reporters were talking about a possible second gunman. The news station showed a photo of a suspect being taken into custody, but I recognized it as a photo of a suspect who'd been arrested several weeks ago because he'd called the college saying he was going to shoot up the campus.

At first I thought, oh no, maybe he made good his threat, but then I realized he couldn't have, he must still be in custody. Then I wondered, well, maybe not. Maybe he was out on bail.

As the hours passed the police presence in and above my neighborhood seemed to grow. Evidently, the police, like the reporters, weren't sure if there was a second gunman. At least, they weren't taking any chances.

I decided to go ahead to my reading group, anything to put a little distance between me and the action.

Driving to 14th and Ocean Park, I noticed people's driving was getting a little erratic, kind of like during the L.A. riots. Random u-turns in the middle of the block, that kind of thing.

A woman who came to our reading group got up and fled the room before we were done. “I have to get where the air is clearer,” she said. We asked her what was the matter. She said she didn't understand anything we were saying. She seemed angry. Now I think, maybe she was just having some kind of panic reaction. Who knows. We didn't ask the right questions to find out.

Then Gene called and told me the police were cordoning off our street. By the time I got home, I couldn't park on our block. I had to park on 22nd Street, a block away. There was a cop in protective gear with an assault rifle hanging across his back on the corner of Pearl and 22nd. I asked him if I could go up to my front door. He told me to enter off the alley. I called Gene and he let me in through the back gate.

Then we had to figure out how to get out to meet our friends for the Dodgers game. If we went out the alley, we wouldn't be able to lock the back gate. At this point, there was still some question of whether or not there might still be a second shooter lurking around. Gene said he'd watched the bomb squad check the underneath of a car parked in front of our house.

I was getting kind of fed up with the whole thing by this time. I had that weird adrenaline-y feeling you get when an emergency has gone on too long. Neither of us felt exactly scared, but I was starting to make little mistakes, like you do when you're really tired, things like putting the coffee pot in the refrigerator, walking into chairs.

So I said, let's just go out the front door and pretend we're too dumb to know better. Make a beeline for the corner before they stop us.

That's what we did. A woman cop came up to us as we approached the corner and asked us what we were doing.

“We're going to our car,” I said, smiling, and kept walking. She seemed okay with that. But she did walk ahead of us. Gene noticed she seemed to be escorting us toward our car. “How does she know where our car is?” he wondered. “She can't. It's just a coincidence. She's just doing her job,” I said. I was rationally sure I was right, but couldn't help wonder if Gene was onto something. All those cops with big guns, all those helicopters, it was paranoia-inducing.

I'm not much of a baseball fan, but the game was a huge relief. By the time we got back, about midnight, the helicopters were gone, and we could pull into our driveway. But there was a bank of bright lights at 20th Street facing the College. Not quite back to normal.

It wasn't until the following night that it dawned on me. That thing we're all scared of in this country--the sociopathic maniac with the assault rifle, killing random strangers. That had really happened here where I live, where I go outside every day.

He was shooting where I walk to the store, to my church, where I mail my letters, where I ride my bike, where I go to the farmers market, where I go to lunch. All within a block or two of my home. And it was just pure luck that I wasn't one of the victims. I just happened to be inside at the time. The victims were people just like me, my neighbors, going about their normal lives.

This is a real thing that happened. This is a real thing that happens all over this country.

Strangely, I couldn't bring myself to wonder why he did it. Strange, because when it's happened elsewhere, that's always the first thing I want to know. “What was he thinking,” I always ask myself.

But this time, it would have been like asking the tornado what was it thinking or cancer cells. It's nothing to do with any motivation I could ever hope to understand. It's like the shooter was a mysterious fictional character, all in black, a death dealer, no humanity. And I'm so angry at him that I don't want him to have any humanity, not even in my mind. This is what real rage feels like. Pure vulnerability.

Ann K. Williams is a former editor and staff writer for The Lookout

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