SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — A heavily armed man and woman terrorized this cityon Wednesday, killing at least 14 people and wounding at least 17 at a social services center before leading the police on a manhunt culminating in a shootout that left the two suspects dead, the authorities said.
Panic, chaos and rumor gripped this largely working-class community about 60 miles east of Los Angeles as the attackers carried out the nation’s worst mass shooting since the assault on an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., nearly three years ago.
Chief Jarrod Burguan of the San Bernardino Police Department identified the two suspects as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27. Mr. Farook was born in the United States. Family members say they were married and had a 6-month-old daughter.
Chief Burguan said it was not clear if a third person taken into custody after the shootout with the police was involved.
“We are reasonably confident that we have two shooters and we have two dead suspects,” he said.
Mr. Farook, an environmental inspector, had been employed with the county health department for five years. On Wednesday morning he attended a holiday party for the department at the Inland Regional Center, a sprawling facility that provides services for thousands of people with disabilities. He left “angry” after a dispute of some sort, the chief said, and returned with Ms. Malik around 11 a.m. — heavily armed.
“There had to be some degree of planning that went into this,” Chief Burguan said. “I don’t think they just ran home and put on these tactical clothes.”
He said the motive had not been determined. “We have not ruled out terrorism,’’ he said.
The couple were armed with .223-caliber assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns.
While shots rang out, others in the building cowered and hid, sending out texts. Chief Burguan said that most of the victims were found in one part of that building but it took hours to render the scene safe.
The attackers left three explosive devices behind, and the authorities were only starting to process the scene and could not identify any of the victims late Wednesday.
As the suspects fled in a black sport utility vehicle, large parts of the city were paralyzed throughout the day.
Residents were told to remain indoors, and government buildings, stores, offices and at least one school were either closed or put on lockdown. Yellow school buses filled with survivors of the shooting were escorted by police vans to meet anxious relatives at a church.
Late in the afternoon, dozens of heavily armed police officers in tactical gear descended on a residential neighborhood in pursuit of the attackers. Witnesses described a wild scene as dozens of officers closed in on a vehicle, with hundreds of shots fired as the people in the vehicle battled the police.
Chief Burguan said there were at least 20 officers involved in the gun battle.
The chief said a third person fled the scene and was taken into custody, but the police did not know his role, if any. A police officer was wounded in the shootout and was being treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
Interactive Feature | How the San Bernardino Shooting and Manhunt Unfolded Maps and graphics of the shooting.
In a year repeatedly marked by such massacres, San Bernardino joined a tragic roster that includes Charleston, S.C.; Roseburg, Ore.; and Colorado Springs, where just five days earlier a gunman killed three people and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Investigators were puzzling over the motives, and there were conflicting accounts of what led to the shooting.
David Bowdich, assistant director of the F.B.I.’s office in Los Angeles, would not rule out terrorism. “We will go where the evidence takes us,” he said. “We are definitely making some movements that it is a possibility.”
One senior American official said that Mr. Farook had not been the target of any active terrorism investigation, and he was not someone the bureau had been concerned about before Wednesday’s shooting. Other officials said the F.B.I. was looking into a possible connection between Mr. Farook and at least one person who was investigated for terrorism a few years ago.
Earlier in the evening, law enforcement officers knocked down the door of the small townhouse in the nearby city of Redlands that they believed to be associated with Mr. Farook. They also secured Mr. Farook’s office.
President Obama once again called for better background checks and new restrictions on access to guns for people who might pose a danger.
“We should come together in a bipartisan basis at every level of government to make these rare as opposed to normal,” he said in a previously scheduled interview with CBS News. He added, “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world, and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”
California has the strictest gun laws in the nation, according to the most recent report card by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. It is among a handful of states that ban sale or possession of many assault weapons, including the most common models, although people who owned those firearms before they were banned are allowed to keep them. It was not known where and how the suspects obtained their weapons.
The attackers drove up in a dark S.U.V. to a complex of buildings run by the Inland Regional Center, spent “several minutes” shooting inside one of the buildings, and then fled, Chief Burguan said. They wore masks and body armor, he said.
“They were dressed and equipped in a way that indicates they were prepared,” he said at a news conference about three hours after the shooting. “They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission.”
For hundreds of people who worked in the Inland Regional Center or were clients of its services, a quiet morning turned into a scene of utter panic and bloodshed, as people fled or hid behind locked doors and under desks, communicating with family and friends through panicked phone calls and text messages.
Jamille Navarro, who works with special needs children at the center, called her mother, Olivia, saying that there were gunman in the building.
“She was hiding in her room,” Olivia Navarro said, crying. “They turned off the lights. She was whispering because she didn’t want to be heard. I told her to stop talking. I said, ‘All right, I’ll be right there, turn out the lights, don’t do a thing.’ Why would somebody want to hurt somebody who helps children?”
San Bernardino is a city of more than 200,000 people that has struggled in recent years as the city filed for bankruptcy, residents suffered a high rate of home foreclosures, and the commercial downtown deteriorated. The population has swelled over the past generation with immigrants from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, drawn by proximity to Los Angeles, and housing that is affordable.
After the shooting, teams of officers searched the buildings, room by room, for survivors or suspects, and the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also dispatched agents.
Lavinia Johnson, executive director of Inland Regional, said that when the shooting started, she and her staff, in another building on the property, remained hidden in their offices for two hours until law enforcement officers led them to safety.
The Inland Regional Center, which was opened in 1971, is a nonprofit agency that serves people from San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. The facility’s Facebook page said 670 staff members served more than 30,200 people.
Large contingents of officers, many in body armor, cordoned off the 1300 block of Waterman Avenue, a major north-south street, and other officers hustled survivors from the building complex across the avenue to the golf course of the San Bernardino Golf Club. Emergency crews treated victims lying in the street, while medical helicopters landed on the golf course to ferry the most seriously hurt patients to hospitals.
The radio traffic conveyed a chaotic and tense situation, as officers guided civilians from the building and described graphic scenes as they passed victims inside. Sometime after the attack began, an officer radioed, “They just found another room with more victims.”
A while later, another officer asked, “Do you need assistance on the scene or do you need us to stay mobile in case these guys hit again?”
Gabriel Torres said his wife, Carina, a social worker who works at the center, spent half an hour or more on the phone with him as she hid under her desk, crying, after her supervisor told her to take cover. Terrified, Ms. Torres told him that he should make sure to take care of their four daughters, ages 10 to 24, if anything were to happen to her.
Her mother, Maria Hernandez, said: “We know she is O.K., I’m going to be O.K., I can tell you, I’m going to pass out. These feelings — I cannot tell you.”
Source: The New York Times