The suspects accused of killing 14 people in an attack at a government office complex in San Bernardino were heavily armed and prepared to combat law officers, authorities said Thursday. One of the first officers to respond to the Inland Regional Center said he encountered a “surreal” scene of violence, with dead people lying around and injured victims moaning for help.
As both local and national investigative teams worked to find a motive for the crime, politicians throughout the country weighed in on the tragedy – the latest in a series of violent gun attacks to rock the United States.
Deceased shooting victims identified Shannon Johnson, 45, Los Angeles Bennetta Bet-Badal, 46, Rialto Aurora Godoy, 26, San Jacinto Isaac Amanios, 60, Fontana Larry Kaufman, 42, Rialto Harry Bowman, 46, Upland Yvette Velasco, 27, Fontana Sierra Clayborn, 27, Moreno Valley Robert Adams, 40, Yucaipa Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Colton Tin Nguyen, 31, Santa Ana Juan Espinoza, 50, Highland Damian Meins, 58, Riverside Michael Wetzel, 37, Lake Arrowhead
Hours after the attack on Wednesday, police engaged in a shootout with the two suspects that left them dead.
In a news conference Thursday morning, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had 1,400 rounds of .223-caliber rifle ammunition in vests they wore and in the Ford Expedition in which they were riding. They also had 200 9 mm rounds for the handguns they possessed.
Burguan said Malik fired at officers from the back of the Ford; in all, 75 rounds were shot at officers. Officers returned 380 rounds. During the firefight, one officer was wounded in the leg and a sheriff’s deputy had cuts from glass or shrapnel.
At a house in Redlands, investigators found 12 pipe-bomblike devices, as well as 2,000 9 mm rounds, 2,500 .223 rounds, and several hundred long-gun rounds, Burguan said. Investigators also seized various electronic devices, which they believe will be crucial in determining a motive.
Burguan said the death toll stood at 14. The number of those injured rose from 17 to 21.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting late Wednesday and decided to close all nonessential offices on Thursday and Friday. Many in the community attended a candlelight vigil Thursday evening at San Manuel Stadium, the minor-league ballpark in San Bernardino.
The attackers also left behind three rigged-together pipe bombs with a remote-control device that apparently malfunctioned. Members of the sheriff’s bomb squad detonated all three without incident.
Burguan said Farook did not have a criminal record. The chief added that authorities do not believe other threats remain to residents in the region.
There obviously was a mission here. We don’t know … what triggered him to do this.
David Bowdich, the FBI’s assistant director in Los Angeles
He opened the news conference by offering sympathy to those involved in the tragedy.
“We’ve got a lot of families that were clearly devastated by what happened here,” Burguan said.
David Bowdich, the FBI’s assistant director in Los Angeles, said investigators don’t yet know a motive for the shooting at the regional center, which aids people with developmental disabilities.
“There obviously was a mission here,” Bowdich said. “We don’t know if this was an intended target or what triggered him to do this.”
Bowdich said Farook, a U.S. citizen, returned to the United States with his wife from Saudi Arabia in July 2014.
The McClatchy Washington Bureau learned that Farook was in Saudi Arabia in summer 2014 for nine days. His wife became a legal permanent resident of the U.S. in July, according to a U.S. government official. She had a Pakistani passport, but it wasn’t clear exactly where she was originally from.
First responder’s recollection
During an evening news conference, San Bernardino police Lt. Mike Madden described the scene that met the first officers to arrive at the Inland Regional Center. Quickly assembling three fellow officers into a team to enter the building where the shooting had occurred, Madden said they entered a “surreal” scene: dead and injured workers, the smell of gunpowder still in the air, the blare of building alarms and fire sprinklers going off.
“What we were seeing, hearing and smelling, the unspeakable carnage we were seeing, number of people injured and those already dead, and pure panic on faces of those needing to be safe,” Madden said.
Madden said he and the other officers found about 50 people huddled in a back hallway; overcome with fear, and they appeared frozen in place. He said officers tried to bring “calm to the chaos going on” and coaxed the workers from their spot to lead them out of the building.
At the same moment, he and other officers continued to search the building, believing an armed shooter was still present.
Gov. Jerry Brown praised the efforts of the law enforcement officers, and promised that local and state government would do what was needed to keep Californians safe.
“When it comes to the people who engage in these kind of vicious, brutal acts, we will spare nothing to bring them to justice,” Brown said. “We have to be on our guard, and not take anything for granted. We will go as far as we have to to make sure public safety is protected.”
Burguan, the San Bernardino police chief, said between 75-80 people were in the room for a training session that led into a holiday lunch. Madden recalled seeing a Christmas tree and other decorations on tables.
Burguan added that the majority of those killed and injured were San Bernardino County employees.
President Barack Obama said congressional action is needed to stop future gun violence.
During a press briefing in Washington, D.C., White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama has “asked his team to scrub the law and determine if there are additional steps that the administration can take, using his executive authority.”
Earnest said the president would also support any state or local governments looking to “enhance security in the communities they govern.”
Meanwhile, presidential candidates continued to react to the mass shooting. Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Marco Rubio said: “We don’t know all the facts yet, but we have certainly learned some facts that are concerning.”
Donald Trump told the same audience that the shooting “probably was related, it always happens … when I heard about it, I figured probably not, but it turns out it probably was related (to) radical Islamic terrorism.”
Trump also bashed Obama for refusing to use the term.
“There’s something going on with him we don’t know about,” Trump said.
On the floor of the U.S. Senate, candidate Ted Cruz said the attack was probably related to Islamic terrorism, although he added that not all the facts were known.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, called for action.
“It isn’t enough for us to keep lamenting these tragedies,” she said. “We need to take action now before something else like this happens again.”
Boxer noted that the U.S. is averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2015.
In Fresno, several local organizations offered their support Thursday for the victims and their families.
El Sayed Ramadan, imam of Masjid Fresno Islamic Center, issued a statement condemning the violence in San Bernardino and offering condolences to the victims’ families.
“We pray to Allah, the almighty God, to grant our nation safety and security,” Ramadan said.
At Fresno State, flags were lowered to half-staff at noon to show respect to the victims. They will remain this way until Dec. 7.