Law enforcement authorities are concluding terrorism as a motive for an attack in Southern California that left 14 dead and was carried out with cold precision by a “devout” Muslim and his wife, who were killed hours later in a shootout with police.
Dressed in tactical gear and toting assault rifles, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, burst into a San Bernardino social services facility and shot up a conference room where Farook’s employer, the county health department, was hosting a holiday party. The pair escaped in a black SUV after the attack, which authorities said was over within minutes, only to resurface four hours later and less than 2 miles away in a fierce gun battle on the city’s main drag.
“They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission,” San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said.
Farook, who Burguan said was born in the U.S. and had worked at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health for five years, was described by co-workers as a “devout” Muslim, who is believed to have lived in nearby Redlands. The nationality of Malik, who reportedly recently had a baby with Farook, was not identified. Family members told The Associated Press the couple was married.
Law enforcement officials said late Wednesday they could not rule out terrorism as a possible motive. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was aiding in the investigation.
A law enforcement source told Fox News that the couple were each carrying an AR-15 rifle and a pistol when they were shot and killed by police after a brief chase in their black SUV about 2 miles from the initial shooting site. The source said the vehicle also contained so-called “rollout bags” with multiple pipe bombs, as well as additional ammunition. The couple also had GoPro cameras strapped to their body armor and wore tactical clothing, including vests stuffed with ammunition magazines.
“That’s a military tactic for a sustained fight,” the source told Fox News of the rollout bags.
In addition to the explosives found at the SUV, authorities discovered and detonated three pipe bombs late Wednesday at the Inland Regional Center, the complex where the initial shooting took place about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Another source described a house in Redlands that was being searched in connection with the shooting as “an IED facility.” The source said investigators discovered multiple pipe bombs in the house, as well as small explosives that were strapped to remote-controlled cars.
The initial shooting happened shortly before 11 a.m. local time at the state-run center, which includes three buildings where developmentally disabled people of all ages are treated. The conference area had been rented out by Farook’s colleagues for a holiday banquet, according to authorities. The chief said that Farook had angrily left the party before returning with Malik. However, other investigators doubted the alleged dispute had taken place or whether the shooting could solely be chalked up to a workplace dispute due to the apparent planning behind the attack as well as the heavy weaponry used.
Patrick Baccari, a co-worker of Farook who suffered minor wounds from shrapnel slicing through the building’s bathroom walls, told the Associated Press he had been sitting at the same table as Farook at the banquet before his colleague suddenly disappeared, leaving his coat on his chair.
Baccari also said that Farook had traveled to Saudi Arabia for about a month this past spring. When Farook came back, word spread that he had gotten married and the woman he described as a pharmacist joined him shortly afterward. The couple had a baby later this year. Baccari added that the reserved Farook showed no signs of unusual behavior, although he grew out his beard several months ago.
The couple dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with relatives Wednesday morning, saying they had a doctor’s appointment, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said after talking with family. Farhan Khan, who is married to Farook’s sister, told reporters he last spoke to his brother-in-law about a week ago. He said he was in shock, condemned the violence, and had “absolutely no idea why he would do this.”
“They came prepared to do what they did as if on a mission.” – San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan
FBI spokesman David Bowdich acknowledged that “adjustments” had been made in the investigation with an eye on the possibility terrorism was involved.
“It’s a possibility, but we are not willing to go down that road yet,” Bowdich said.
About four hours after the shooting, with police looking for a dark SUV, officers staking out the Redlands home saw a vehicle matching that description. Authorities pursued the SUV, and a gun battle broke out around 3 p.m., authorities said. One officer suffered a minor injury.
The aftermath of the shootout was captured live by television news helicopters.
It was unclear where the suspects may have been during the nearly four hours following the lightning-quick attack, but they did not get far. A police spokeswoman said police came across the SUV while “doing follow-up work,” and several reports said the car was at a nearby home police were staking out when the suspects got in and tried to flee. It was not immediately clear if that home was the one searched later in Redlands.
Word that police were hot on their trail came even as emergency responders were treating the wounded on the scene, and sparked a flurry of law enforcement racing to the scene just blocks away. The gunfight, caught on cellphone video by a bystander, was a furious exchange of bullets in which a passenger in the SUV blasted at police through the shattered rear windshield before the vehicle was disabled in a hail of return fire.
Center employees, who undergo monthly training drills to prepare for active shooter situations, initially thought the incident was a drill, according to the Los Angeles Times. But when real bullets flew, several hid in closets, barricaded themselves in rooms or fled for their lives.
The Inland Regional Center is one of 21 facilities serving people with developmental disabilities run by the state, said Nancy Lungren, spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services. The social services agency administers, authorizes and pays for assistance to people with disabilities such as autism and mental retardation. On an average day, doctors at the regional centers would be evaluating toddlers whose parents have concerns and case workers meeting with developmentally disabled adults.
The San Bernardino facility consists of three buildings, and employs approximately 600 workers. Inland Regional Center Executive Director Lavinia Johnson told Reuters the shooting happened at a conference center her group rented out for a San Bernardino Health Department county personnel holiday party.
Glenn Willwerth, who was near enough to the scene to hear shots being fired, told Fox News after the massacre that he saw a black SUV that matched the description of the one in the subsequent shootout leaving afterward, driving slowly and deliberately. He later told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that vehicle was “identical” to the one involved in the shootout.
Witnesses described passing bodies on the ground as they fled, and a makeshift triage center was set up outside the facility. A local NBC videographer reported there were not enough ambulances to transport victims, and that people were using pickup trucks to carry victims to triage areas. Hours later, busloads of employees from the center were taken to a nearby church where authorities planned to interview them.
At nearby Loma Linda Medical Center, a spokeswoman said the hospital was treating five adult patients, two of whom were in critical, but stable condition; two in fair condition and one still being assessed.
Other victims were being treated at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where Kathy Hotetz waited for information about her sister, Denise Peraza, 27, who was shot in the leg.
“She’s alive. That’s all I know,” said Hotetz, 37. “Not knowing any more than that is the scariest part.”
Kevin Ortiz, 24, was shot twice in the leg and once in the shoulder during the attack, but managed to call both his wife of two weeks and his father to tell them he was alive.
“Kevin said he had been shot three times and that he was in pain but he was all right,” his wife, Dyana Ortiz, 23, said. ” Then he said ‘I love you’ and I said ‘I love you.'”
Wednesday’s bloodshed was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since the attack at a school in Newtown, Conn., three years ago that left 26 children and adults dead.
President Obama was briefed on the situation by his Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and asked to be updated on the situation as it develops. In Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a moment of silence before that city’s annual tree lighting.
Fox News’ Adam Housley and the Associated Press contributed to this report.