Crime & Justice

Update: Santa Monica gunman was denied gun purchase, left goodbye note (photos)

Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Brian Watt/KPCC
Video still image shows the suspect entering the Santa Monica Library on June 7, 2013.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Update 8:36 p.m.: New details on Santa Monica gunman

The man behind the deadly June 7 shooting rampage in Santa Monica tried to buy a gun two years ago, but the state rejected his purchase, police said Thursday.

Instead, John Zawahri began purchasing parts from stores around the country and ultimately assembled his own rifle in a configuration that made it an illegal assault rifle in California, according to police.

"We know that Zawahri was able to buy gun components from various sources across the country, to build his own .223 semiautomatic rifle, to obtain ammunition and an array of magazines capable of carrying 30 rounds each to carry out his murderous activities," said Santa Monica police chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

Seabrooks said she doesn't know why the state turned him down but that he did suffer from mental health challenges. 

RELATED: Timeline: June 7th shooting in Santa Monica

Zawahri killed five people — including his father and brother — before being fatally shot by police in the library of Santa Monica College. A note was found on his body expressing remorse for the murder of his father and brother — whose bodies were found in his father's burning house — and a desire that his mother be taken care of.

Zawahri's note was also directed at his friends, whom police said they planned to question.

The fire at Zawahri's house was started in at least two places, but there was no indication that an accelerant was used to intensify or spread the flames, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, a police spokesperson.

Zawahri possessed a variety of guns, including replicas and zip guns, which are tube-based weapons that fire a single bullet.

He also had an old .44 caliber revolver that had been converted to carry .45 caliber ammunition. That gun was loaded with .45 caliber ammo and found in a bag Zawahri left behind at the college. Also in the bag were numerous 30-round ammunition magazines, which are illegal to purchase, sell or transfer in California. Possession is not illegal.

Zawahri had not atttended school since 2010, and he was unemployed at the time of the shooting.

Earlier: The assault-style rifle used by a Santa Monica gunman to kill five people last week appears to have been put together using component parts, according to two officials briefed on the investigation, the Associated Press reported.

The officials, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said the semi-automatic weapon appears to have been built with parts that are legal to obtain, but put together make the rifle illegal in California.

The finding about the component parts was first reported by radio station KFI-AM.

Investigators found a drill press in 23-year-old John Zawahri's bedroom among other materials that indicate he likely assembled the weapon.

The drill press is used to help finish building the rifle by drilling holes in the lower receiver. A lower receiver that is only 80 percent complete can easily be purchased, and because it is not complete a person isn't required to go through a background check nor does it need to have a serial number.

In California such weapons require a "bullet button" kit, which needs to be added to a lower parts kit to make it legal. The bullet button kit modifies the weapon so that a separate tool must be used to release a magazine and reload it; without such a modification a person can press a button to release the magazine.

Zawahri was carrying 1,300 rounds of ammunition in magazines that were capable of holding 30 rounds each.

Such high-capacity magazines are illegal to purchase, sell or transfer in California. Possession is not illegal.

Zawahri's 15-minute midday rampage Friday spanned a mile between his father's home, where his father and brother were shot to death, and Santa Monica College, where police shot him to death in the library. Along the way he fired at vehicles and strangers, fatally wounding three people. One other person was seriously wounded and two others had minor injuries.

Zawahri's last reported contact with law enforcement was seven years ago when bomb-making materials were found at his house during a search prompted by threats to students, teachers and campus police officers at Olympic High, a school for students with academic or disciplinary issues.

Retired police officer Cristina Coria, who helped serve the search warrant, said Zawahri was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation at the time. She didn't know the outcome of the evaluation.

Police declined to provide further details, saying Zawahri was a minor at the time.

But once a person is held for such an exam, they cannot access or possess firearms for five years.

In the case of Zawahri, that prohibition would have expired in 2011.

The Santa Monica-Malibu school board was briefed at the time by school administrators after police found Zawahri was learning to make explosives by downloading instructions from YouTube, school board member Oscar de la Torre said.

This story has been updated and clarified to be precise about the legality of 30-round magazines in California.