Santa Monica College Mass Shooting
By Debra Fine (WPO Pacific US At Large)
I am, like many women, a wife, a mother, and an executive. In those roles, I always lean In, even if that means stepping just slightly back. I try to do this and remain vulnerable, which is real strength.
I was heading for the lesson of my life on June 7th.
That day, John Zwahari shot and killed his father and his brother, burned their house down and, on a mission to kill as many people that he could, walked out of the burning house with his semi-automatic rifle and 1,300 rounds of ammunition. That morning my life changed forever.
Like many mornings, I took my twins to soccer practice, worked out in my sweats, and was going to rush home to change in time to make it to a meeting. I was looking for a shortcut to get to my destination and turned right onto a side street. I came face-to-face with one of the most terrifying sights I have seen.
In the middle of the street, a man in full tactical gear, black pants, black shirt, a bulletproof vest, and an automatic rifle was aiming at one of his neighbors. He then swung his rifle toward a woman in her car, motioning her to pull over to the side of the road.
I thought that he could be one of the U.S. president’s security team because President Obama was in Los Angeles. I registered that his stance was very tense and aggressive. His rifle was pointed directly at two women. He was not part of the SWAT team. I knew he was going to shoot them. Without any further thought, I hit my accelerator to get my car between the man with the rifle and his targets.
We locked eyes, his targets temporarily on hold. He was standing 10 feet away from my driver’s side window. I was looking into eyes that were dark and dead. There wasn’t one ounce of humanity in him. He was on a mission of execution and nothing would get in his way, and that is all I was to him, a thing in his way.
He pulled the trigger and I felt bullets tearing into my shoulder. I felt a burning on my ear, and I couldn’t hear in my right ear. I went into absolute survival movement, rolling onto the passenger side with my head low. He kept shooting in rapid succession. I was shot five times.
I ducked low and rolled my upper body into the passenger side of my car. I don’t know how I knew that I needed to stay in motion, duck low and stay very quiet, but I did.
Neighbors called 911 as the shooter got into a woman’s car and made her drive. He did not have time now to shoot her. The police were on their way.
The gunman shot through the window of her car. He got to Santa Monica College and shot five people. The early 911 call, which came in because I was shot, enabled the police to stop him within 12 minutes of his rampage. Within three minutes of arriving at Santa Monica College, police shot and killed him.
I was rushed to the UCLA Trauma Center.
When I heard a paramedic say they had two more bodies on the way but they were DOA, I realized this was a mass shooting. When they took out the bullets and I was stable, I asked my husband to turn on the TV. I saw the carnage at Santa Monica College.
I was in a state of shock but I believed that I needed to let the community know what happened. I spoke with the media from my hospital bed. My Lean In network, my WIN network, fellow YPOers, friends and family were pouring out love and support, including bringing dinners to our house.
I learned many things about myself. I am not a victim. I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a strong leader in my communities.
I learned something else about the prejudice that is still out there. Some of the postings after my interview with Piers Morgan were shocking:
“This was a set up, no woman knows what a Kevlar vest is.”
“She must have been an actress, women don’t know what ammunition is.”
Really? On a radio interview, the “talk jock” said, “What woman would be stupid enough to put herself into the middle of a shooting?” I called in. I said, “Most. I have a survival instinct that enabled me to not only take a bullet but be smart enough to tuck and roll.”
To learn more, read a Fox News account of this story.
About Debra L. Fine:
Debra has been an executive in, and been the CEO of, the top for profit and non-profit companies/organizations. She has run top consumer products and media companies for the past 20 years. Debra was the vice president of marketing at Disney in the interactive gaming/consumer products divisions as well as running strategy for some of the most trusted brands in the world such as Kraft, Quaker and American Express while at Marketing Corporation of America. Debra founded Cloud 9, which specialized in children’s educational media, winning top product awards and achieving worldwide distribution. Debra has raised more than US$100 million for her own and client companies as well as taking companies public.
She was named one of the top 50 most powerful females in entertainment technology in 1998. Debra acquired Small World Inc., one of the most trusted and high quality educational toy companies in the country. She and her team created, manufactured and distributed educational toys that won in excess of 200 awards and were sold throughout the world. She took the company public and acquired and integrated two prominent electronic learning companies. Debra was named Female Entrepreneur of the year as CEO of Small World in 2006.
Debra has served on the executive committee in various positions as a member of Young Presidents’ Organization.
Her passion lies in creating only the highest quality brands, both non-profit and for-profit, through business planning, financial structuring, marketing, distribution and mergers and acquisitions. She specializes in bringing in individual donors, big gifts, corporate sponsorship and highly attended events to raise funding.
Debra has been/is on the board of directors of both public and private companies. She was the chairman of the board of Small World, chairman of the comp committee and audit committee for Equity Marketing, board director for Project Access and Step Up on Second, and board member for four of Mike Milken’s portfolio companies.
Debra resides in California with her husband and two children.
This post was first published by Women’s International Network July 2013