A San Bernardino County worker left a holiday party “angry” and stormed back to festivities with a partner, assault weapons and tactical gear to spray gunfire Wednesday morning, killing 14 and wounding 17 at a social services facility, authorities said.
The two shooters were fatally gunned down in their getaway vehicle by police after a chase through the cities of Redland and San Bernardino and identified late in the night as U.S-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and a woman who was either his wife or his fiance, Tashfeen Malik, 27.
Farook was an environmental specialist in the health department, where he had been working for five years, said Chief Jarrod Burguan of the San Bernardino Police Department at 1:15 a.m. news conference.
“He did leave the party early under circumstances that were described as angry in nature,” Burguan said.
He left the Inland Regional Center, where the county workers had offices, and about 11 a.m. local time, he and Malik opened fire at the party and laid three “pipe bomb type” explosives that were neutralized about 9 hours after the shooting, the chief said.
Burguan said it appeared there were only two shooters and that a man detained had been seen running from the direction of the suspects’ sport utility vehicle and may not have been involved.
The police chief said investigators still do not know the motive but said “we have not ruled out terrorism.”
There were no reports that Malik had been at the party and that the pair said anything before shooting, the police chief said.
“Based upon what we have seen and based upon how they were equipped, there had to be some degree of planning that went into this,” Burguam said. “I don’t think they just ran home, put on these types of tactical clothes, grabbed guns and came back on a spur of the moment thing.”
As the federal and local law enforcement began piecing together what happened, they faced at least four crime scenes — the shooting scene, a Redlands apartment listed under the couple’s names, the street where the two were shot dead and Farook’s office.
Officers had secured the office building and only just begun gathering evidence there, the chief said.
Authorities recovered two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns, the chief said.
Reports Wednesday night said at least one of the weapons was purchased legally by someone authorities believe is connected to the attack.
Hours after the shooting — the worst since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 — federal and local law enforcement officers continued searching for evidence.
Television news reports late Wednesday night showed what appeared to be a robotic device operated by law enforcement approaching the apartment looking for explosive devices.
Just after 11 p.m. several reports said 10 of the wounded were in critical condition. Three others were listed in serious condition.
At a news conference just before midnight Wednesday at the Greater Los Angeles Council of American-Islamic Relations and attended by relatives of at least one of the suspects, the shooting was condemned.
“I spoke to him about like a week ago. I have no idea, why he would do that,” said Farhan Kahn, who identified himself as Farook’s brother-in-law. “Why would he do something like this? I am in shock myself.”
The carnage at the Inland Regional Center began at about 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, when the two masked shooters entered a conference room inside the three-building complex and opened fire, police said.
The facility provides services for adults and children with developmental disabilities.
‘They came prepared’
“They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission,” Burguan said.
The Inland Regional Center’s board president and chief executive, Marybeth Feild, told the Times the San Bernardino County Public Health Department had been hosting a banquet in the center’s conference room where the shooting took place.
The paper reported that a dispute at the gathering may have precipitated the attack.
Terry Petit, the father of an employee who works at the center, choked back tears as he read texts from his panicked daughter, who hid in the building after hearing the gunshots, The Associated Press reported.
“People shot,” Petit read. “In the office waiting for cops. Pray for us. I am locked in an office.”
Hundreds of survivors were evacuated by the busload as local, state and federal law enforcement personnel — including SWAT teams — scrambled to find suspects, secure the scene and respond to any subsequent attacks.
Glenn Willwerth, who owns a business across the street from the facility, told AP he went outside with a gun when he heard the shots. There, he saw people carrying an injured woman outside, while a pair of empty boots stood on the sidewalk near a trail of blood.
David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said officials still were investigating possible motives for the attack, including workplace violence and terrorism.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Bowdich said.
“I am still not willing to say that we know for sure,” he said. “We are making some adjustments to our investigations. It’s a possibility but we do not know for sure.”
Vehicle found after tip
Police searching for the black SUV seen leaving the scene of the shooting said they found the vehicle after receiving a tip about a residence in the nearby city of Redlands.
Later, with police looking for a dark SUV, officers staking out the Redlands residence, saw a vehicle matching that description leave. They pursued the SUV until it crashed.
A gunbattle between the two suspects and about 20 police officers broke out at about 3 p.m., authorities said.
An officer was grazed by a ricocheted bullet and was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries, according to reports.
As police searched for the shooters, the city of San Bernardino — a city of about 214,000 roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles — placed its city government buildings and courthouses on lockdown and streets blocked off.
County schools also were on lockdown until students were dismissed at the regular time.
The shooting “has shaken the core of our community,” San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis said in a statement.
The attack comes less than a week after three people were killed in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado.
Wednesday’s shooting was the deadliest since 26 children and adults were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.
News of the massacre lit up social media and sparked a sobering reaction from President Barack Obama.
“We have a pattern of mass shootings in the country with no parallel to anywhere in the world,” he said during an interview with CBS News.
“There are steps we can take to improve our odds. . . . We should never think this is something as normal in any course of events.”