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Officer who helped take down Santa Monica gunman describes what happened 6 years later

Posted at 3:19 PM, Jun 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-07 16:33:52-04

WACO, TX  — On June 7, 2013, a gunman went on a shooting rampage in Santa Monica, California.

He opened fire inside a home, killing his father and brother. He then jumped inside a car, forcing the driver to take him to Santa Monica College. He shot at a city bus, other cars and buildings along the way.

Capt. Raymond Bottenfield with the Santa Monica College Police Department was one of three officers on campus when the shooting began.

“There’s all this chaos going on in the city and no one knows what’s going on,” Bottenfield said. “We heard numerous shots fired. It was obvious it was rifle fire."

Bottenfield said what followed was the most horrific crash he had ever heard in his life.

Two victims were shot as they drove past the gunman, crashing their car into a wall. It was a father and daughter who were on campus to buy textbooks.

"That was my friend Carlos and his daughter. Carlos was one of the groundskeepers for the college,” Bottenfield said. "Carlos was a good guy. A family man."

With his adrenaline pumping, Bottenfield and the other officers continued their search. Students were running across campus, hearing shots in all different directions.

"In an urban environment, all those shots are doing is echoing. What we found out later, from video, was that the suspect was actually shooting at us," Bottenfield said. “We’re getting word now over the city police radio and by people running by us saying the suspect is heading toward the library."

On their way to the library, Bottenfield heard another shot. He believes that was the shot that killed another person he knew.

“We had a lady named Margarita, probably about 69, 70 years old who used to come on our campus every day and collect cans and bottles for her church youth group,” Bottenfield said.

Bottenfield later found out through video that Margarita had her headphones in listening to music. It appeared as though she had no idea what was going on.

“When the suspect came upon her, he didn’t give her a chance," Bottenfield said. "Just pulled up his firearm and shot her once in the chest and just dropped her right there like she was nothing.”

With more lives at stake, Bottenfield said they couldn't stop to help her.

“To bypass her and leave her there was probably one of the hardest things I ever did,” Bottenfield said. "But we had to keep moving."

The chaos continued as students ran across campus to avoid being shot. When the officers finally reached the library, they found the gunman.

“In the front of the library is a vestibule probably about 30, 40-feet apart," Bottenfield said. "As the doors opened, the suspect was standing there pointing a rifle at a student.”

Bottenfield said they gave verbal commands for the shooter to drop his weapon.

"He turned, and fired at us. Some rounds went through the glass doors next to us," Bottenfield said. "Between the three of us, we ended up firing multiple rounds and taking the suspect down."

The gunman was identified as 23-year-old John Zawahri. Zawahri died the day before his 24th birthday.

Police had contact with Zawahri in 2006, but because he was a juvenile, authorities couldn't release further information, according to Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

A law enforcement source, with knowledge of the investigation, told CNN the gunman had suffered from mental health issues. A few years ago, he was hospitalized for treatment after allegedly talking about harming someone, according to the official.

Bottenfield said there's no "quick fix" to prevent these tragedies, but he believes having better access to mental health treatments is a start. He said stronger gun laws would hurt the average law abiding citizen more than those looking to cause harm.

"You could ban 100 percent of the firearms today, you're never going to get all the firearms off the street," Bottenfield said. "Whenever there's a demand for something, it's going to be met."

About three months before the shooting, Bottenfield taught emergency preparedness classes on campus. He showed library staff how to survive an active shooter situation.

When the gunman walked into the library, library staff gathered students and ran to a safe room. They locked the door and got down on the ground.

"To this day, I believe I was meant to be there," Bottenfield said.

Bottenfield was off-duty, armed only with a handgun when the shooting began. The only reason he was on campus was to attend a meeting at the police department.

President Barack Obama awarded a 2013-14 Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to Bottenfield and the other two officers for their bravery during the shooting.

Bottenfield carries the honor with him, along with the weight of what he saw in 2013.

“I was just stunned that day," Bottenfield said. "Next morning, woke up, had a cup of coffee, turned on the news and the first thing I see is Carlos’ picture and at that point, I just lost it.”

With time, the pain has become more manageable. But on the sixth anniversary of the rampage, the memories remain clear.

“Circumstances didn’t allow us to save all of them, but we went and did our job and did the best we could," Bottenfield said. "And because of that, a lot of other people were not hurt.”

After the incident, Bottenfield began teaching counter-terrorism programs to protect the community.

He joined the Santa Monica College Police Department in 2009. He and his girlfriend moved to Central Texas six months ago, shortly after he retired.