Essay Writing Samples

Case Study in Crime Trends and Patterns

In this sample research paper, the author explores a single case of a public shooting. This sample criminology paper explores the story of John Zawahri, a man who went on a shooting spree in the town of Santa Monica, California.

John Zawahri and the Santa Monica College shooting

On June 7, 2013, John Zawahri opened fire on the campus of Santa Monica College, in California. The “spree” began at the perpetrator’s home, where he shot two men (both family members) and set fire to the house. Zawahri then proceeded to the Santa Monica campus, where he opened fire on those in his path. By the end of the day, Zawahri had killed five people and injured four. Zawahri was the sixth person killed in the day when he was shot down by police officers in an exchange at the Santa Monica College library.

Zawahri shooting shows pattern in crime trends

While the crimes appeared to be premeditated, Zawahri’s actions on the day did not follow any particular pattern. Zawahri set fire to the house, then armed himself with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. He hijacked a woman and her car to get to the Santa Monica campus, shooting randomly along the way, including at a passing bus. Upon arriving on campus, Zawahri proceeded to the library, where he shot another woman. Finally, Zawahiri exchanged gunfire with police officers, when he was fatally shot.

It immediately became clear that Zawahri was well armed – he fired at least seventy rounds while on campus, and possessed a duffel bag filled with ammunition magazines, boxes of bullets, and a .44 revolver. Additionally, a three-page note was found on Zawahri’s body, in which he apologized for killing his father and brother. This is all that is known for certain about John Zawahri and his crime; however, there is some speculation as to motive. According to a law enforcement official who spoke to the Los Angeles Times, Zawahri was apparently angry over his parents’ divorce and had some mental health issues in the past.

Speculations surrounding the murders

There are many reasons violent criminals commit their offense. Some speculate the rampage began in response to an undetermined family dispute. Zawahri’s history seems to confirm this perspective. As far back as 2006, when Zawahri was still a high school student in Santa Monica, the young man was found searching for assault weapons and instructions on making explosive devices.

He had also been in trouble for making threats against both students and teachers. Subsequently, Zawahri was admitted to UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. The only connection with Santa Monica College is when Zawahri was enrolled as a student from 2009 to 2010.

Santa Monica College shooting and connections to U.S. violent crime rates

Ascribing this crime to generalized crime trends and patterns across the United States is difficult, as it may not fit the ecological or socioeconomic conditions or patterns that sociologists tend to appropriate. However, Zawahri does fit a pattern of the crime of mass-shootings. As Mother Jones states, Zawahri fits several strong patterns among the killers of mass-shootings analyzed over the past thirty years.

First, the biographical information fits the profile of a serial killer so to speak. Zawahri was an adult male, aged twenty-three, and a first-generation American, the son of Lebanese immigrants. All but one of the perpetrators of mass shootings in the last thirty years have been male, most of which were a young adult to middle aged. Zawahri’s minority identity also fits other generalized crime patterns across the United States.

Second, Zawahri’s number and use of weapons fits in a generalized pattern for mass-shootings. As previously stated, Zawahri fired more than seventy rounds with a higher powered assault rifle, but was also carrying more than 1,000 rounds with him and carried secondary weapons. There is evidence that restrictive gun control laws have an impact on mass shootings. Mother Jones’ study showed that more than half of all mass shooters used assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and that many were armed with multiple guns.

The study also showed that most shooters’ guns were obtained legally – Zawahri possibly obtained his weapons online. Finally, Zawahri had shown signs of trouble (mental or otherwise) years earlier. As Mother Jones found, a majority of shooters had mental health problems, many of which showed signs of their issues prior to their attacks. All of these conditions, while not prescriptive for crime, are descriptively used for a biographical pattern.


Follman, M. 11 June 2013. “Santa Monica Killer John Zawahri: A Familiar Profile.” Mother Jones. Accessed:

Mather, K., et al. (8 June 2013). “Santa Monica Gunman Identity Released.” Los Angeles Times. Accessed:,0,1143675.story

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