Crisis response experts from Los Angeles were at the disposal of San Bernardino County authorities today, as investigators examined whether international terrorism was a factor in a massacre committed by a couple who later died in a gun battle with law enforcement officers.
The shooting Wednesday inside a San Bernardino treatment center for people with developmental disabilities—and the subsequent gun battle—shocked the nation and left similar facilities and law enforcement across the Southland on edge.
President Barack Obama called it part of a pattern of mass shootings with “no parallel anywhere else in the world,” and this morning he ordered that flags be flown at half-staff at all U.S. federal facilities in the United States and abroad as well as on all U.S. Navy ships.
Federal officials from Los Angeles and elsewhere in the nation worked Thursday to uncover the motive for the attack and determine if there was an international terrorism component or if it should be regarded strictly as workplace violence.
As a result of the shooting at the Inland Regional Center, where 14 people were killed and 21 were wounded. Authorities continued the hunt for the suspects who later Wednesday, were confirmed to be dead. They were identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who were married two years and had a 6-month-old daughter.
Farook was born in the United States to Pakistani parents and was reported to be a five-year employee of the San Bernardino County public health agency, which was holding a holiday party when the shooting erupted.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Farook had traveled to Saudi Arabia last year and returned with a new wife he met online.
At a news conference Thursday morning, David Bowdich of the FBI said Malik came to the United States with Farook in July 2014 on a work visa and had a Pakistani passport. The couple married after arriving in the U.S.
Bowdich said investigators were working to determine why the couple opened fire on the victims, and he stressed that “the fact-finding process takes time.
“We do not yet know the motive,” Bowdich said. “There was obviously a mission … we do not know why.”
Bowdich said it would be “irresponsible” to describe the crime as terrorism until more is known.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, also at the news conference, said it was not known if any of the victims were specifically targeted by the couple.
“They sprayed the room with bullets,” Burguan said, and noted that Farook had been at the party earlier but left, possibly after having some type of dispute.
Burguan said the preliminary investigation determined that the suspects fired 65 to 75 rounds in the room. The couple wore black clothing and combat-style vests, but were not wearing body armor as had been earlier thought.
On Wednesday, Farook’s brother-in-law Farhan Khan, who said he is the husband of Farook’s sister, told reporters his entire family is “shocked and very sorry for what happened.”
“We had no idea something (like) this could happen,” Khan said at an Anaheim news conference organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA).
Apparently fearing an anti-Muslim backlash, CAIR-LA’s Executive Director, Hussam Ayloush, issued a statement on behalf of the group and the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
“We condemn this horrific and revolting attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured,” Ayloush said. “The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence.”
In a news briefing on Wednesday, Burguan said the attack reflected planning.
“Based upon what we have seen and based upon how they were equipped, there had to have been some degree of planning to this,” he 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.”
Police and witnesses said the assailants walked into the holiday party in a conference room and started shooting.
According to Burguan, the investigation led police to a home in Redlands, and as officers approached, Farook and Malik fled in a dark SUV. A pursuit followed, ending back in San Bernardino, where a gun battle ensued.
Farook and Malik were killed in the prolonged shootout, Burguan said. He said both suspects were armed with assault rifles and handguns.
At Thursday’s briefing, Burguan said a San Bernardino police officer suffered a leg wound that was not believed to be life-threatening, and a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy suffered leg cuts, possibly from shrapnel.
The suspects fired about 75 rounds during the gun battle, and about two dozen law enforcement officers fired about 380 rounds, Burguan said. The suspects had about 1,600 rounds of ammunition on them or in their vehicle, Burguan said.
Agents from the Los Angeles field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives along with personnel from the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations all responded to the scene of the shooting on Wednesday.
The Inland Regional Center has nearly 670 staff members and provides services to more than 30,200 people with developmental disabilities and their families in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
As the shooting investigation unfolded, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued a reminder that people can take steps to try to protect themselves in an active-shooter situation. The department has a website and video available with tips at activeshooter.lasd.org.