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Filipino in Santa Monica: ‘I am not the hero here’

Ryan Macasero
9 students survive the Santa Monica College shooting, including a Filipino, Marcel Kahn

SURVIVOR. Marcel Kahn, a Filipino student at Sta Monica College, recalls the tragedy last June 7. Photo courtesy of Kahn

MANILA, Philippines— Marcel Kahn, 22, a student and library staff member at Santa Monica College was preparing a goodbye card for his co-workers because it was supposed to be his last day of work.

He was getting ready to transfer to the University of Southern California where he intends to finish his undergraduate studies in policy, planning and development. Kahn is originally from Makati, Philippines, and moved to Southern California in 2010.

“I was just about to leave the library, but prepared the goodbye card first,” Kahn said.  That card probably saved his life on Friday, June 7. 

A black-clad gunman killed at least 4 people in a shooting rampage in the college that day, before police shot him dead.

According to an Agence France-Presse report, the gunman was identified as former student John Zawahiri.  He allegedly killed his father and brother before burning down his home, and carjacking a female driver who he forced to drive to campus.  

“There were 9 of us in the library.  We were by the circulation desk, about 20 to 25 steps away,” Kahn told Rappler.

Kahn is being hailed as a hero online with messages circulating on social media about how he led 9 students into safety.  

“My good friend Marcel Kahn was working the noontime shift in the library at the time of the shooting.  He was working the front desk when the alleged gunman walked into the premises and opened fire with a semi automatic rifle,” Luigi Alessandro Bernasconi, who said he was a friend of Kahn’s posted on Facebook.  “Marcel along with one of his co-workers led about nine people into a safe room where they took cover from open fire.”

But Kahn’s humility won’t allow him to take credit for saving them. 

“I am not the hero here,” Kahn said.  “It was actually the library’s lead assistant, Jan Juliani,” he clarified.  “She had the key to the library’s safe room where we keep the library’s money.  If it wasn’t for her steady hands and her instinct to get us into the room, 9 of us (Kahn and 8 of his coworkers) would all be dead.”

Kahn told Rappler that after entering the room, they (the students) got as low to the ground as they possibly could. The gunman tried to fool them into coming out of the safe room by claiming to be a police officer. “He told us to come out on the count of 5.  He started counting. After counting 1,2,3,4 and 5, there was a pause of silence, then pow, pow, pow,” Kahn said, remembering what happened before the suspect “sprayed the door with bullets” right above their heads.  

“When he started counting, I was in disbelief. I wasn’t sure what he would do after counting, but after hearing the first shot, I knew it was a gun,” Kahn said. “I wasn’t sure we would be OK after hearing the first shot.”

A miracle

Juliani, his co-worker, was calm and managed to keep a steady hand in opening the door. “And then we all rushed in,” Kahn said. “One of my co-workers almost didn’t make it inside.”

Not one screamed, but everyone was in shock. “We all just knew through instinct we had to keep quiet. When the gunshots stopped, Jan and I called 911 to let them know where we were,” he said.  

He notified his brother Daniel and his girlfriend while they were inside. Kahn said he was hopeful that those wouldn’t be his last words.

Their survival was almost a miracle. “I don’t know what happened after the shooting, there was just silence,” he said.

Even after the police came, the students weren’t sure if they were really safe yet. 

“We heard the dog’s barking. We pushed one of the safes in front of the door after the shooting to make sure that the gunman wouldn’t have a chance to get us. We weren’t sure who to trust. We didn’t know if he was doing this alone or had a partner,” Kahn told Rappler.  

The carjacking victim had told media that she thought the suspect was dressed like an officer. 

According to Kahn, another co-worker suggested that the cops slide identification underneath the door. It wasn’t until someone else recognized the voice of a campus officer that they decided it was safe to open the door. “I am proud to work with some really intelligent people,” Kahn said.

Bomb threat

The rescue team led the 9 students to safety. “There were choppers outside the campus and when we got outside, we just held each other,” Kahn said.

Just weeks before, Kahn said the school received a bomb threat. The campus community had been on edge after the events following the Boston Marathon bombing last April. “We took this seriously and if not for the other freak incidents, we may not have been so lucky,” he said.

 “We all knew each other before,” he said. And after going through this, they “got even closer.”

After escaping death, Kahn learned that it is important to make the most of life. “Live it the way you truly want. We take this life for granted,” he said.

Kahn will be starting a new job tomorrow and will be moving to a new school soon.  “I’m a positive man,” he said and won’t let this tragedy stop him. – Rappler.com

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at ryan.macasero@rappler.com