The gunman, dressed all in black and carrying a semi-automatic rifle, walked calmly through the Santa Monica College campus after killing his father, brother and another person, authorities said. He would kill a woman outside the library moments later, before dying from police gunfire.
Trena Johnson, a longtime administrative assistant working in the dean's office, looked out the window around noon Friday and saw a man with a "very large gun."
"We saw a woman get shot in the head," said Johnson. "I haven't been able to stop shaking."
Before the rampage was over five people, including the gunman, were killed and five more were injured, police said.
The violence, which lasted just about 20 minutes, started about mile away when the gunman opened fire at a house where two bodies were found, police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said.
Two officials said 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, wearing what appeared to be a ballistic jacket, carjacked a woman at gunpoint and directed her to drive to the college campus, having her stop so he could shoot along the way, police said.
He wounded one woman in a car who was in critical condition late Friday. He fired on a city bus where three women were left with minor injuries. One had shrapnel-type injuries and the two others had injuries not related to gunfire. They were treated at a hospital and released.
The gunman also fired on police cars, bystanders and pedestrians, police said.
From there, the chaos shifted to Santa Monica College, a two-year college with about 34,000 students located among homes and strip malls more than a mile inland from the city's famous pier, promenade and expansive, sandy beaches.
In a faculty parking lot on the edge of campus, he fired on two people in a red Ford Explorer that crashed through a block wall. The driver was killed, police said, and a passenger was in critical condition after undergoing surgery UCLA Medical Center, doctors said.
College employee Joe Orcutt was in the lot and said he saw the gunman, looking calm and composed.
"He's just standing there, like he's modeling for some ammo magazine," Orcutt said, "seeing who he could shoot, one bullet at a time, like target practice."
The gunman walked on to campus and shot the woman in front of the library, who appeared to be in her 50s and carried a bag of recyclables, police spokesman Richard Lewis said. She died at the hospital about three hours later.
The gunman went inside the library and kept shooting but apparently hit no one, Seabrooks said.
Dozens of students, who had been studying for final exams, ran for the exits.
"I was totally scared to death and I can't believe it happened so fast," said Vincent Zhang, a 20-year-old economics major.
Officers entered the library and shot the gunman moments later, Seabrooks said. He was carried to a sidewalk, where he was declared dead. His body remained there many hours later as coroner's investigators examined the scene. His name and the names of his victims' were being withheld while the coroner's office notified relatives.
Nine crime scenes were under investigation by officers from 11 different law enforcement agencies, said Lewis, the police spokesman.
On the gunman they found a canvas bag that included a rifle, a handgun and magazines of ammunition, Lewis said. A small cache of ammunition found in the house that had burned.
Police had said earlier that seven people were killed, including the gunman, but they revised the death toll to five at a news conference late Friday. Lewis said there were conflicting descriptions of some victims and they were counted twice.
Police detained a second man but released him and said he was not a suspect, expressing confidence the crisis had ended.
"Santa Monica is very safe tonight," Lewis said.
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