By Richard A. Serrano, Veronica Rocha, Joseph Serna and Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times, (TNS)
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — A man and a woman connected to a mass shooting that left 14 people dead and 17 wounded in San Bernardino were killed in a firefight with police officers after a car chase Wednesday, authorities said.
Two law enforcement sources identified one of the deceased suspects as Syed Farook, an American citizen.
Public records show a person named Syed R. Farook was employed by the San Bernardino County Health Department as an environmental health specialist, but it was not clear if that was the same person involved in the shooting.
The identity of the second person killed by police was not immediately known.
Police tracked the alleged assailants to a home in Redlands, southeast of San Bernardino, around 3 p.m. PST, touching off a dramatic televised car chase that ended in a shootout on the streets of San Bernardino, according to city Police Chief Jarrod Burguan.
A police officer was also wounded in the gun battle, but is expected to survive.
A federal law enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times that the suspects hurled what were believed to be pipe bombs at police during the vehicle pursuit. Burguan said police recovered one device, but it turned out not to be an explosive.
A third person was detained in the area where the pursuit ended. That person’s connection to the shooting was unknown.
The chase came four hours after assailants opened fire at a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center, a social services office that aids people with developmental disabilities.
A senior federal official who is monitoring the case said investigators believe one of the shooters left the party after getting into an argument and returned with one or two armed companions. Local officials at an evening news conference said it was not clear whether the people involved in the dispute were the same people involved in the shooting.
The shooters carried long guns and wore masks when they opened fire around 11 a.m. in a large conference room where San Bernardino County Health Department employees were gathered, according to witnesses and officials.
In an exchange overheard on a law enforcement radio channel, an official can be heard telling a dispatcher Farook “was at the meeting,” referring to where the shooting took place, and then left “out of the blue.”
Farook “was acting nervous” and left the building approximately 20 minutes before the gunfire erupted, according to the recorded transmissions.
A black sport utility vehicle was seen fleeing from the office complex where the shooting occurred. Shortly before 3 p.m., police began pursuing a black SUV in San Bernardino.
TV footage showed dozens of heavily armed police officers approaching the SUV, and officers in tactical gear could be seen stalking through a San Bernardino neighborhood.
A body could be seen lying in the street near the vehicle. Blood was pooling nearby and a weapon was lying just feet away.
The motive for the attack remains unclear.
“Is this a terrorist incident? We do not know,” said David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
Burguan said that at least one device police believed to be an explosive was recovered at the center, where authorities were expected to remain for several hours. Earlier in the day, a federal law enforcement official told the Times that a robot had been used to dispose of a potential explosive device.
The shooting rippled across San Bernardino. All county schools, as well as city government buildings and courthouses, were on lockdown as police continued to search for the assailants. School officials, however, stressed that students had not been in danger and were dismissed on the regular schedule.
During a news briefing, Burguan said information about the party being the focus of the attack was “preliminary” and he declined to comment on a motive for the shooting.
“We have no information at this point to indicate that this is terrorist related, in the traditional sense that people may be thinking,” Burguan said. “Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here.”
Hundreds of people were on the grounds at the time of the attack, Burguan said. Inland Regional Center officials said the conference room where the party was taking place can hold up to 200 people.
Chaos followed the gunfire. At first, some at the scene mistook the shots and law enforcement response for a routine disaster drill.
Dorothy Vong, a nurse who was working in a nearby building, captured the tension in a video.
As law enforcement officials sprinted toward the scene, someone can be heard saying, “Oh, that is scary.”
“They’re all geared up!” someone else says. “Rifles and everything!”
In the background, someone laughs. Then the reality sets in.
Carlos Ortiz’s son Kevin Ortiz was shot twice in the leg and once in the shoulder.
Carlos Ortiz, 54, was among a dozen people holding hands in a prayer circle outside Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where numerous victims were taken.
“Kevin called me immediately after he got shot and said ‘I’ve been shot three times, Dad. I’m in pain. Don’t worry. There’s a policeman with me.'”
Seconds later, the phone call ended.
Kathy Hotetz, 37, waited anxiously outside the same hospital for word of her sister Denise Peraza’s condition. Peraza, 27, was shot once.
“She’s alive,” Hotetz said. “That’s all I know. Not knowing any more than that is the scariest part.”
A short time later, Peraza called her sister from her hospital bed, and gave a grueling account of the attack.
She said the doors opened and two men dressed in all black wearing face masks entered with “big ol’ guns” and started shooting.
“Everyone dropped to the floor,” Peraza told her relatives. “The guys opened fired for 30 seconds, randomly, then paused to reload and began firing again.”
Peraza was hiding under a desk when she was struck in the lower back. After the attackers left, the scene was silent for about five minutes. Then the doors swung open again, and a swarm of police officers entered the room.
Closer to the shooting scene, dozens of people spent hours hiding in their workplaces.
Fred Henning was holed up inside the paralegal’s office where he works with his wife, about a block from the scene of the shooting. Henning said they were standing outside as helicopters swooped overhead.
“We just came inside because it could be stray bullets, who knows?” Henning said.
The block where the shooting took place is home to a number of businesses, Henning said, including a three-building complex that houses his office and about 140 others.
Lynn Spicer, an employee at West Tech/Webcop Interactive Systems, inside a nearby office building, said police were not allowing anyone to leave the area.
“I just heard sirens all day, and I went out and I saw nothing but massive cops were out,” Spicer said.
Spicer said more than 100 people were brought over from the Inland Regional building and gathered in her office complex’s parking lot.
“It’s shocking that it’s right across the way,” Spicer said. “It’s very scary.”
President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting by his Homeland Security adviser, Lisa Monaco, and asked to be updated as the situation developed.
The president was being interviewed by CBS on Wednesday morning when news of the attack broke, and said the repeated occurrence of mass shootings shows the need for stricter gun laws in the U.S.
“Obviously, our hearts go out to the victims and the families,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview. “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.”
With nearly 670 employees, the Inland Regional Center serves those with developmental disabilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to the center’s Facebook page.
The center has provided services to more than 30,200 people with developmental disabilities and their families for at least 40 years. The nonprofit organization serves children, adults and seniors.
The center has been in the news before.
In 2010, parents and care providers criticized the center for ignoring children’s needs, the San Bernardino Sun reported. The center was accused of showing favoritism regarding vendor rates. Employees filed a civil lawsuit against the center, alleging they were retaliated against for advocating for patients, the Sun reported.
(Times staff writers James Queally, Richard Winton, Brian Bennett, Louis Sahagun, Rong-Gong Lin II and Taylor Goldenstein contributed to this report.)
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Officers swarm the area near where suspects were shot following a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)