A team of gunmen killed at least 14 people and seriously injured another 17 at a San Bernardino, California, social services agency Wednesday, prompting a dragnet that led to probes for terrorism ties and a fatal shootout with police in the city’s streets that killed two suspects.
The FBI was investigating multiple scenes, and the head of its Los Angeles field office said “it’s a possibility” that the massacre was a terrorist operation.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan identified the two suspects slain by police in a chase as Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27. At a press conference early Thursday, he said they were a couple, “either boyfriend, girlfriend; husband and wife.” The Los Angeles Times reported that they were a married couple, with a child.
The pair were killed in their vehicle while carrying “assault rifles and handguns” and wearing “assault-style clothing.”
Farook worked for San Bernardino County as an environmental health specialist, and recent government records indicate that he oversaw water quality testing at several pools.
A third man was arrested at the scene of the fatal gunbattle, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether he was involved in the massacre at the morning party or just an innocent bystander fleeing in panic.
Chief Burguan said early Thursday that police were “pretty comfortable” saying that nobody connected to the attack remained at large and the two dead suspects carried out the killings themselves.
Multiple features of the attack — the use of long guns, the fatigues and body armor, the swiftness of the operations — caused security analysts quickly to suspect a sophisticated and planned operation more typical of terrorists than random psychopaths.
“I think that what we have seen and how they were equipped, there had to be some kind of planning in this,” Chief Burguan said early Thursday, though he had said just hours after the attack it was already obvious that “they came prepared to do what they did as if they were on a mission.
David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said that while “we’re still not willing to say we know that for sure,” the investigation was heading in the direction of terrorism.
Officials declined to say whether any threat was made against the facility before the attack.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent teams to the scene to assist local law enforcement. At least one explosive device was found at the center and police were working to disarm it, officials said Wednesday evening.
“Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here,” Chief Burguan said Wednesday evening.
Meredith Davis, an ATF spokeswoman, told KCAL9-TV that the suspects tossed a fake pipe bomb from their SUV during the chase — a thick-gauge copper pipe that had no explosives inside and an attachment made to look like a wick.
Each was armed with a long gun and a handgun and “loaded with magazines for a gunfight,” she said.
The gunmen at the Inland Regional Center — the initial reports varied from one to three — attacked a facility that serves people with developmental disabilities, at around 11 a.m. Wednesday during a holiday party there and managed to evade police for several hours.
Police officials also said they were investigating reports of a dispute at the center, which prompted someone to leave in anger. It was unclear whether that person returned to the event before the shooting took place.
“Someone did leave, there was some type of dispute at the party, but we have no idea if those are the people who came back,” Chief Burguan said.
Co-worker Patrick Baccari told The Associated Press that Farook, who was born in the United States, traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year and returned with a wife. Mr. Baccari attended the holiday party Wednesday but was in the bathroom when the shooting started.
Mr. Baccari says Farook was gone for about a month in the spring, and when he returned, word got around Farook had been married, the AP said.
The woman he described as a pharmacist joined him in the U.S. shortly afterward, and they soon had a baby. Police described Malik as Farook’s wife or fiancee, AP reported.
In nearby Redlands, police served a search warrant on a townhouse connected to the shooting early Wednesday evening. An anti-bomb robot was sniffing through the house as police cordoned off the block late into Wednesday night.
A half-dozen vehicles carrying helmeted police drove into the area, according to an Associated Press reporter on the scene as an officer carrying an assault rifle ordered reporters to clear the area.
Before the Redlands raid, officials said they would be moving forward with searches of locations tied to the attack cautiously, given the nature of possible explosive devices discovered at the shooting scene.
“We don’t know the contents of what’s in that house, but previous active-shooter incidents have shown us there are times when devices are left behind,” Mr. Bowdich said at an evening news conference. “We certainly are going to proceed very cautiously into that house, to preserve life and limb of our employees.”
According to CNN, the Redlands home was tied to the suspects based on a tip and a large black SUV with Utah plates — a vehicle that matched descriptions of the suspects’ vehicle as a GMC Yukon — emerged and then sped away, prompting the chase.
The network reported that the female suspect was driving the vehicle while the man leaned outside the vehicle and shot at pursuing police.
Several terrorism and law enforcement analysts on CNN said the tactics used implies a pattern different from most recent mass shootings in the U.S. — a mentally ill person lashing out on a whim.
Robert Baer, a former CIA operative, told CNN that the attack “has hallmarks of what we’ve seen in the Middle East” and was conducted with “a skill you don’t see unless people have had preparation and training.”
Footage from several Los Angeles stations showed a black SUV stopped in the middle of the road about 2 miles from the center, its windshield riddled with bullet holes. A person could be seen lying in the road in a pool of blood. A second body was later taken away.
A San Bernardino County employee told local station KTLA-TV that his daughter was at the center Wednesday morning for a county Christmas party when the shooting took place.
“They just heard the shots and she called me and said, ‘Dad they are shooting. Please call 911,’” said Mark Stutte, adding that his daughter happened to be in the bathroom when the gunmen opened fire and that she was able to make it out of the building unharmed.
San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, is the county seat and home to more than 205,000 people.
Schools, county and city facilities and even hospitals in the city were put on lockdown Wednesday as law enforcement officers searched for the gunmen.
President Obama, who was briefed on the shooting by his homeland security adviser, was quick to point to Wednesday’s incident as an example of a greater need for Congress to enact more gun regulations.
“We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn’t happen with the same frequency in other countries,” he said during an interview with CBS News.
The identities of casualties and victims from the incident have not been released.
Hospitals around the area provided scant details about the multiple trauma victims they aided.
The Loma Linda University Medical Center reported receiving four patients from the shooting, and the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center reported receiving five female patients and one male patient.
For much of the afternoon, police worked to clear the large building, with officers evacuating people who had been inside the building to a nearby golf course to be interviewed. Witnesses were later moved to a secure location. Officials worked through the afternoon to reunite those who were trapped inside the center with their family members.
Inland Regional Center is a 44-year-old nonprofit agency that serves more than 31,000 people from San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
An employee at a Sepulveda Building Materials, about 3 blocks south of the Inland Regional Center, said no one at his business heard any gunshots, but shortly after the shooting was reported two women came to the store seeking shelter.
The employee, who declined to give his name over the phone, said the women described being in a meeting at the Inland Regional Center when they heard a series of three gunshots.
“As soon as they heard that, they came over here,” the employee said. “They looked really worried.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.