She’s not sure how she did it, but Carol Champommier went back to teaching first grade at Beckford Avenue Elementary in Northridge only a few months after her son was gunned down in a Studio City parking lot.
“Everything was a blur to me, I don’t really know how I got through it,” says the mom in her Porter Ranch home.
“I think it was the feeling of support that I got from so many strangers that helped me,” she says. “There were so many other people out there who feel the anger and outrage about what happened, so I don’t feel so alone.”
There are websites and blogs devoted to her son created by people who never knew him—and many also created by his friends.
There’s Justice For Zac, there are poems (click here), there are petitions , there are many Facebook pages, some by the schools, and dozens of YouTube tributes that will simply make you cry. (See different videos in each of the galleries.)
“One of the most amazing reactions was when I went to the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead, see photos in the gallery above) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and talked to people about him,” Carol says. She created a display in the cemetery for Zac that is usually held around Halloween, and people commemorate family members they had lost.
“Strangers kept coming back a few times to talk to me, and talk about Zac,” Carol says. “It was a most joyous day for me.”
Other emotional moments include the at the busy Studio City intersection of Laurel Canyon Avenue and Ventura Boulevard where friends of Zac’s carry signs and calls for action.
This year, it may happen again. She doesn’t yet know. She’s not sure she will attend.
“So many people see an injustice has been done, and they feel so helpless,” Carol says.
And Carol is weary of the barrage of reports she sees and hears about on the news of excessive force being used by police. She’s not interested in becoming a poster child for gun control or parents who have lost children to violence, although she has related to a lot of the families. It’s the alone time that is hard.
“I know there are times where I stare at walls for a long time, I look at the sky a lot,” Carol says.
“I was angry at him, for a time, mad,” she admits. Then, the anger turned toward the officers who were supposed to protect her and her child.
“No one was reprimanded in any way, shape or form,” she says. “I think they are monsters. How can they live with themselves?”
No criminal charges were filed against the two men who were identified as the shooters—Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy Mark Brewster and Drug Enforcement Agent Peter LoPresti. The DA's investigative Justice System Integrity Division concluded that the DA's office "will not file criminal charges against these officers because they acted in lawful self-defense," according to the report.
The analysis was based on reports prepared by sheriff's Sgts. Sandy Nava and Don Walls. Deputy District Attorney Shelly Torealba and Senior Investigator Brandon Lenhart were assigned to the case. After voluntary statements from Brewster and LoPresti, a walk-through and debriefing proved the officers were in fear for their lives when they used deadly force against Champommier, according to the report. Zac’s car struck Brewster, hitting him and causing him to roll from the hood to the ground, the report said. In rendering assistance to a fellow officer, both LoPresti and Brewster fired six rounds at the accelerating car.
The civil lawsuit (see attached in the PDF section above) claims the shooting was "wilful, reckless, malicious, deliberately indifferent to Decedent's rights, done with actual malice, grossly negligent and objectively unreasonable."
A seemingly arbitrary number of $10 million for damages is named in the lawsuit. “I don’t care about the money,” Carol says. “Of course I’d trade it all to have him back.”
The trial is finally set for Nov. 16, and she believes there will be some shocking new evidence brought in about the shooting. She said she hopes that the courtroom will be filled with friends and family to represent Zac. She also admits that she may never know what really happened those last few moments of his life.
How would Zac want to be remembered? His mom says, “Probably as ‘The Cool Guy.’ He was so laid back.”
The photographs and videos posted by his school friends on the Internet usually show him very relaxed, with a wide smile and a welcoming hug. A lot of times, he’s making a goofy face.
Parents come to Carol, seeking advice, seeking consolence themselves. She doesn’t have much to offer, really.
“I did everything right, I had a great kid,” she sighs. “You just can’t protect your child from everything.”
How has that changed this mom? “Well, I have no fear anymore,” she says frankly. “The biggest fear I ever had was that something would happen to my son. That happened. Now I have no fear.”
She says, “These people took his life for no reason. I think of the police as bullies. As a teacher, I have no tolerance for bullies. There needs to be consequences for their actions.”
Could she ever forgive them?
Carol takes a breath and a pause. “Forgiveness, right now? No, I can’t do that.”
She tears up, remembering that Zac used to tell her to be nice to people when she would be frustrated (usually while driving).
“Zac would have wanted me to forgive them,” she says. “That is why he was so much of a better person than I.”
(See videos and photos of Zac in the gallery above, and please add your thoughts and comments in the box below. If you have additional photos, you can add them by signing in and the clicking ADD YOUR PHOTO near the gallery above.)