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San Bernardino Attacker Was ‘Normal Guy’ While Practicing At Shooting Range

By Richard A. Serrano, Richard Winton, Sarah Parvini and Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been radicalized “for quite some time” and practiced shooting at a gun range days before they opened fire on a San Bernardino holiday party, authorities said Monday.

Investigators have interviewed more than 400 people since Wednesday’s attack but are still trying to determine how long the couple plotted the massacre and what links if any they had with Islamic terrorist groups.

The FBI and other agencies are also working to assemble a profile of the couple’s life and how exactly they amassed their cache of weapons, ammunition and explosives.

“We are attempting to expand that investigation out and build it and build a picture of each person, the timeline and ultimately the crimes they committed,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “That takes time. We are in day five.”

Meanwhile, pieces of the puzzle continued to slowly emerge. The manager of a gun range in Riverside said Monday that Farook practiced shooting with a military-style weapon, adding that an employee described him as a “normal guy.”

John Galletta, a firearms instructor at Riverside Magnum Range, said the company turned over surveillance footage, financial records and sign-in logs to the FBI.

Two of the guns Farook and Malik used in Wednesday’s massacre — both semi-automatic rifles — had been given to the couple by a former neighbor, who was interviewed by investigators and checked himself into a mental hospital after the attacks, two law enforcement sources said.

Fallout from the attack continued to play out on the national political stage, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump calling for all Muslims to be barred from entering the United States for an indefinite period until leaders “can figure out what is going on.”

The incendiary statement, coming a day after President Barack Obama sought to reassure the nation, drew immediate condemnation from the White House and several of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination.

The developments came as officials described a sprawling global investigation into what drove the married couple to adopt extreme beliefs and whether they had any links to foreign terror organizations.

Bowdich cautioned that terrorists can be bred by online rhetoric and are not necessarily linked to a group.

“We are working with our foreign counterparts to determine as much as we can,” he said. “It’s like any other investigation, but this one is incredibly large.” More than 300 pieces of evidence have been collected — some of which were sent to Washington, D.C., to be analyzed at the FBI’s explosive device center. Among the items taken from the shooters’ Redlands home were 19 pipes that could be converted into bombs.

The agency is also applying survey technology to the crime scene at the Inland Regional Center, where the shooting began. A reconstruction team is attempting “to ultimately paint that picture of how everything transpired that day,” Bowdich said.

“Our job is to continue the investigation at breakneck speed,” he added.

John D’Angelo of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said three guns were recovered from the shootout scene and the couple’s rented two-story townhouse. Farook had legally purchased a Savage Arms .22 rifle, Llama 9 mm handgun, and a Springfield Armory 9 mm handgun between 2007 and 2012, D’Angelo said.

An acquaintance, Enrique Marquez, had given the couple the semiautomatic Smith & Wesson M&P15 and .223-caliber DPMS A-15 rifles, authorities said.

Until a few months ago, Farook and Malik lived in Riverside, next door to Marquez. Farook, observed as quiet and withdrawn, struck up a friendship with Marquez, who shared a similar interest in tinkering with cars, a neighbor recalled.

“They would spend hours and hours and hours together,” said the neighbor, Rosie Aguirre. “That’s the most sociable I ever saw him with anyone.”

Federal authorities interviewed Marquez over the weekend, and a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the weapons he gave Farook were legally purchased in 2011 and 2012. There is no paperwork of them being transferred to Farook, he said.

On Sunday, the FBI seized items from Marquez’s home after having spent several hours there the day before, according to neighbors. There was no indication at the time that Marquez had any knowledge of the plot, a source said.

Authorities have said it appears Farook and Malik underwent a great amount of planning before the attack.

Scrubbing the backgrounds of Farook, 28, and Malik, 29 — who were killed in a shootout with police hours after their rampage — has been an international effort, with cooperation from foreign governments. In Pakistan, where Malik attended college and Farook’s parents were born, the interior minister announced an inquiry into the shooters’ background had been launched. Investigators were also looking to sources in Saudi Arabia, where Malik lived as a child.

Federal investigators are trying to determine if Farook was influenced by Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, a former Minneapolis resident known as “Mujahid Miski” who became a recruiter for Islamic State and allegedly encouraged the attempted attack on a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, earlier this year. The U.S. State Department said Monday that Hassan turned himself in to authorities in Somalia, where had been hiding.

FBI officials have said that Farook had “some contact” with someone known to the FBI in this country and also reached out digitally to at least two members of foreign terror groups, including one in Somalia said federal law enforcement official, who is unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Born in Chicago and raised in Riverside, Farook met Malik on a dating website. The couple were married last year in Islam’s holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi officials confirmed that Farook spent nine days in the kingdom in the summer of 2014. The couple’s daughter was born in May, according to records.

Farook’s sister and mother hope to gain custody of the baby, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. The organization said it is working to place the baby with a Muslim family as it remains in child protective services. A follow-up custody hearing has been scheduled for January.

(Times staff writers Paloma Esquivel, Veronica Rocha, Joseph Serna, Matt Stevens, Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.)

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Patrons enter the Riverside Magnum Range in Riverside, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. The range’s spokesperson confirmed that Syed Rizwan Farook practiced in its indoor shooting range days before the deadly attack in San Bernardino. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

 

Police Kill Man, Woman Connected To San Bernardino Mass Shooting; 1 Suspect Identified

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)