Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Murky lessons from Tacoma, Santa Monica shootings

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm with 10 Comments »
June 10, 2013 7:04 am

Last Thursday in Tacoma an argument allegedly prompted Michael Dillon to fatally shoot his next door neighbor. On Friday a man now identified as John Zawahri shot his father and brother and torched their Santa Monica home before going on to kill others at a nearby college.

Two armed killers, fueled by rage, writing their grievances in innocent blood – just another 24 hours in America.

There are, however, several differences between these two tragic incidents which may shed a dim light on the phenomenon known as the mass shooting.

It starts with a relative unknown: the killers’ mindset. Neighbors say Dillon, whose North End home was rigged with surveillance cameras, had a reputation as the antisocial neighbor nobody messed with. According to a CNN report, Zawahri was purportedly unstable with an undisclosed juvenile record.

The firearms: Witnesses describe hearing approximately ten rapidly fired shots and seeing Dillon armed with a handgun; Santa Monica police state Zawahri was dressed in black, wearing a ballistic vest, armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and 1,300 rounds of ammunition.

The body count: Dillon killed himself after allegedly shooting Frank Rossiter, 55, the only victim attributed to Thursday’s shooting in Tacoma’s North End, while Zawahri is alleged to have shot eight people, killing four (a fifth has now died), before dying in a gunfight with police.

Photo of alleged shooter, John Zawahri/ courtesy of
Photo of alleged shooter, John Zawahri/ courtesy of

Finally, the age of the shooters: Dillon was 51 when he allegedly shot Rossiter and later himself; Zawahri, who could have passed as a character in an uber violent video game, was 23.

This leads to the questions: Why did Michael Dillon pass up the opportunity to vent years of pent up rage by going on a killing spree through his neighborhood? Why did John Zawahri not simply disappear after killing his intended targets?  With mass shootings becoming more prevalent, these are painfully frustrating but important questions.
It is true that a sampling of just two alleged killers may provide nebulous answers at best. There are, however, clear differences between the two men that might best be understood by their respective generations.
As a baby boomer, Dillon grew up without the vast and nagging presence of the cyberworld or the
the omnipresent and super-specialized “news” shows that play to almost every individual taste. Thus, there were no constant updates from Middle Eastern war zones, no breaking news on terror, no incessant reminders that the world is polarized, that life here and abroad is cheap.
That reality describes the terrain for someone in their early 20s, like John Zawahri. “The kid who didn’t fit in” syndrome, which hammered the national consciousness after Columbine, has crashed headlong into a violent era. It is no wonder that both Hollywood and Nintendo have done so well churning violent fantasies into cash.
That backdrop is the glaring difference between Dillon’s and Zawahri’s formative years, no matter their individual stories. Kids today have grown up with the ability to stream ten years’ worth of combat on their laptops, to visit radical websites and Internet sources that provide immediate and violent solutions, to arm themselves with one of the country’s 300 million firearms protected so feverishly.
As bad as the Tacoma homicide was, the image of a heavily armed and armored gunman stepping through the door of a library with mass murder in mind is evil of an entirely different order.
That is why we need to understand the next generation of killers, the ones who do not stop when their intended victim goes down, who step over the body and head for the crowd.
And the sooner the better.
Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. And the adults don’t smile at the disabled on the streets
    of Puyallup. Civilization is what is being lost.
    The shooters are only symptoms.

  2. simonsjs says:

    When you give too many people free money, society falls apart. We are seeing this now.

  3. Wow, where to begin. First, perhaps you should research just how “violent” nintendo games are. Hint, Nintendo takes game violence very seriously. Just about all of their game titles lack any blood or gore, and are more of the cutesy mario brothers and princess peach than anything else. If you want mature themes, you get an xbox 360 or a PS3, or skip right to the PC. Seriously, a roadrunner cartoon is more violent than a typical nintendo game.

    Otherwise, your column appears to be yet another diatribe against popular culture, blaming judas priest and doom on gun violence, like the morons in the 80s. Instead you’re blaming nintendo and hollywood. So, can you blame hollywood and pop culture on the weather underground, or the race riots in the 60s? Or, perhaps the blame should be placed on less convenient targets? Like, oh, I don’t know, poor parenting?

    Finally, I’m not sure how you’re lumping tacoma’s north end homocide as a mass shooting spree. Meanwhile, according to the huffington post, in 2012 there were over 500 homocides, which cost the taxpayers over 2.5 BILLION dollars. In one of the strictest gun control states in the union. Ho Hum, right? The rampant gang violence is just an outgrowth of hollywood and super mario brothers, or donkey kong?

  4. Sorry, there were over 500 homocides in chicago. Didn’t make that clear.

  5. smokey984 says:

    To clarify Chicago statistics for 2013:

    666 people shot as of May 15th, 2013
    162 homicides as of June 10th, 2013

    3.8 shooting per day and a shooting every 6.3 hours and this comes from a city with the most stringiest gun laws in America. Gun control works!!!!

  6. Brian O'Neill says:


    Aside from pointing out my overreach with regards to Nintendo (vs. the competition), your comments suggest you skimmed this column. The Tacoma shooting was obviously not an example of a mass shooting, but was mentioned to highlight the difference between a shooter who stops at one victim, versus shooters who go on killing sprees. Those differences may help inform the debate on how to stop the epidemic of mass shootings.

    Whether one agrees with the premise that violent movies and video games may be partially to blame is less the point than answering this question: why did these two killers make their individual choices?

  7. m9078jk3 says:

    One way to greatly help not become an assault or murder victim is to not badmouth strangers or even people that you know.Be polite or don’t say anything at all.Also don’t get involved with something that is not your business (like a fight or dispute between other people).

  8. Disability doesn’t equate with free money.
    If you’d lived in that world as a professional,
    volunteer and patient you and your right wing
    brethren would know that.

  9. Finding convenient scapegoats to throw under the bus doesn’t solve anything. Since Cain slew his brother Abel, evil has existed in the world. I don’t think the film industry was around, except in maybe the town of Bedrock. I do have a novel idea, how about we blame the person perpetrating the crime, instead? I listen to rock music, and watch lots of violent movies and television, yet somehow I’ve managed to resist the influences in popular culture and have not killed anyone. Last time I checked I haven’t even threatened anyone. I haven’t robbed a bank, or shot up my workplace. In fact, I think the vast majority of americans haven’t either, and the Lord knows some of the music they listen to would personally drive me insane.

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