SMC graduation to double as memorial; Governor prevails in budget battle; Killer gets ‘death’

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Mourning. College graduation is a joyous event. But today’s ceremony at Santa Monica College will be tinged with sadness as the commencement doubles as a memorial to victims of last Friday’s shooting rampage.

A vigil was held on the campus last night. Shortly before 6 pm, people began assembling outside the college library. That’s where the shooter, John Zawahri, ended his killing spree. A makeshift memorial had been set up with flowers, candles, balloons, rosary beads, and the names of the five victims written on red construction-paper hearts.

Family members of father-and-daughter victims Carlos and Marcela Franco led a procession from the library to Corsair Field. They were reportedly too distraught to speak. Instead, faculty members and school officials addressed the mourners. They spoke of the need to demonstrate love and compassion and solidarity. Participants stood silently, some weeping, as the air filled with music.

Student Thelea Soto says she’s been shaken by the killings. “I’ve always felt safest here in this area,” Soto said. “I come from South L.A., you know. I’m used to all the drive-bys and the shootings and all that stuff but I drive this far, all the way out here, so I can escape all that. To know that something like this can happen, it’s scary. It’s like we’re not safe anywhere.”

The third victim killed on campus has been identified as 68-year-old Margarita Gomez, who lived near the campus and regularly collected recycling there. L.A. Daily News

Killer’s background.
Police are getting more information about John Zawahri and his family. Zawahri took video game design classes at SMC a few years ago. Campus officials say there were no disciplinary issues. Zawahri did have a record with Santa Monica police, but officials haven’t released that information because he was a juvenile at the time. The 23-year-old was reportedly upset about his parent’s bitter divorce. His mother Randa Abdou says her husband was abusive throughout much of their marriage — hitting her, pulling her hair, and saying that if he had a gun, it “would be all over”. Zawahri’s five victims included his father and older brother. Zawahri, who had received psychiatric treatment, reportedly had a fascination with assault weapons. L.A. Times

State budget. Gov. Jerry Brown appears to be getting much of what he what wanted in an emerging budget deal with Democratic leaders in the Legislature. One of the main points of disagreement was how much revenue the state can expect in the next fiscal year. The governor’s more conservative projection was $3.2 billion less than the numbers from the state Legislative Analyst. The tentative spending plan would provide more funding for welfare grants, mental health programs and some other services. But it balances the budget based on revenue projections from the governor. The sides also reached an agreement on the governor’s proposal to change how schools are funded – with more money going to districts with large numbers of low-income students and English-language learners. Sacramento Bee

Mailing it in. More people than ever voted by mail in last month’s L.A. mayoral election – even though fewer people than ever voted overall. When invalid ballots are deducted, some 207,000 absentee votes were cast, or about 45 percent of all votes. That’s the highest number and percentage of mail-in ballots ever in an L.A. election. Overall voter turnout was a historically low 23-percent. City Councilman Eric Garcetti was elected mayor with a little more than 222,000 votes – the lowest number for any non-incumbent L.A. mayor since the 1930s. KCBS

Death sentence. A jury says an L.A. gang member should be executed for his part in two deadly shootings, including one known as the “49th Street Massacre.” Forty-four-year-old Charles Ray Smith showed no emotion as the jury announced its verdict yesterday in an L.A. courtroom. The shooting on 49th Street happened in June 2006. Smith and another man – both wielding AK-47’s – opened fire on a group of children and adults after apparently mistaking them for rival gang members. Two boys, 10 and 17, were among those killed. L.A. Times