SANTA MONICA, Calif. » A man with a semi-automatic rifle killed at least four people and wounded several others Friday as he carried out a deadly rampage across several blocks of a normally idyllic beachfront city. Police shot him dead in the Santa Monica College Library.
The violence began when the gunman, dressed in all black and wearing what appeared to be a ballistic jacket, opened fire on a house where two bodies were found, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said.
Two officials said Friday night 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.
As the house burst into flames, the man wounded a woman in a car before moving toward the campus, spraying bullets as he went. Police said he opened fire on a city bus, a police car and other vehicles, as well as bystanders and pedestrians.
The driver of an SUV leaving a campus parking lot was killed and two passengers were wounded as the car crashed through a block wall.
From there, the gunman entered the campus, fatally wounding a woman as he made his way toward the college’s library, where students were studying for final exams.
"We saw a woman get shot in the head," said administrative assistant Trena Johnson, who looked out the window of the dean’s office, where she works, when she heard gunfire. "I haven’t been able to stop shaking," she said.
Inside the library, students reported hearing gunfire and screams.
"I was totally scared to death and I can’t believe it happened so fast," said Vincent Zhang, a 20-year-old economics major who said he heard a woman pleading, "No, no. Please, no."
The gunman continued to shoot at people in the library, Seabrooks said, but apparently didn’t hit anybody there as dozens ran for the exits.
"The officers came in and directly engaged the suspect and he was shot and killed on the scene," she said.
Just 3 miles away, President Barack Obama was attending a fundraising luncheon. Secret Service spokesman Max Milien said the agency was aware of the shooting, which began just before noon, but it had no impact on the president’s event.
After the gunman was killed, police wearing helmets and armed with shotguns and rifles searched the campus for a possible second shooter. A man dressed entirely in black, the words "Life is a Gamble" on the back of his sweatshirt, was seen being led away in handcuffs.
Sgt. Richard Lewis, a Santa Monica police spokesman, said at a news conference tonight that the man was questioned and released, and he is not a suspect.
The identities of those who were killed were not immediately released.
Three of the gunman’s victims died immediately. The woman near the library died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where she had been admitted in critical condition.
Two other women were also admitted to the hospital, said Dr. Marshall Morgan, the chief of emergency medicine. One was listed in critical condition after undergoing surgery. The other arrived in serious condition but was upgraded to fair condition Friday night.
Three other women went to UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica with relatively minor injuries, Morgan said. One had shrapnel-type injuries and the two others had injuries not related to gunfire, he said. All were treated and released.
Police had said earlier that seven people were killed, including the gunman, but they revised the death toll to a total of five at a news conference late Friday. Police said there initially were conflicting descriptions of some victims and they were counted twice.
Jerry Cunningham Rathner, who lives near the house that caught fire, said she heard gunshots and came out onto her porch to see a man shooting at the residence. Soon, the building erupted in flames and was billowing smoke.
The gunman, dressed in black and wearing an ammunition belt, pointed a rifle at a woman in a car and told her to pull over, Cunningham Rathner said. He then signaled to a second car, also driven by a woman, to slow down and began firing into the vehicle.
"He fired three to four shots into the car — boom, boom, boom, right at her," said Cunningham Rathner, who went to the woman’s aid and saw she was wounded in the shoulder.
She said the gunman then abducted the woman in the first car and drove away.
From there, the chaos shifted to Santa Monica College, located among homes and strip malls more than a mile inland from the city’s famous Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and its expansive, sandy beaches.
The two-year college, spread out across 38 acres, has about 34,000 students.
Jimes Gillespie, 20, told The Associated Press he was in the library studying when he heard gunfire, and he and dozens of other students began fleeing the three-story building.
"As I was running down the stairs I saw one of the gunmen," said Gillespie, who described the shooter as a white man in his 20s, wearing cornrows in his hair and black overalls.
As he ran across campus, he said he saw a car in front of the English building that was riddled with bullet holes, had shattered windows and a baby’s car seat in the back.
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."
Associated Press writers Greg Risling and Sarah Parvini contributed to this story.