What We Still Don't Know About the Mass Shooting in San Bernardino

On the morning after the deadliest mass shooting in America since 2012, we know the suspects' names but not a whole lot else.

by Mike Pearl
Dec 3 2015, 2:00pm

Photos by the author

One male and one female suspect are dead in the southern California city of San Bernardino, where 14 victims were killed and 21 more injured on Wednesday in America's deadliest mass shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan indicated that officers fired some 380 rounds and sustained about 75 more from the suspects, 28-year-old American Syed Farook, a county public health worker, and Tashfeen Malik, a 27-year-old woman. They possessed 1600 rounds of ammunition of their own, and all four guns used in the attack were purchased lawfully, while a search of the suspects' Redlands home unearthed 12 pipe-bomb-style explosives, thousands of additional rounds, and the makings of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Federal law enforcement is currently probing the attack for connections to terrorism, which President Obama said were possible in an Oval Office statement Thursday morning, the New York Times reports. Farook had communicated with extremists and terrorism suspects in the past, according to the FBI.

At his final press conference late Wednesday night, Burguan identified the shooters, who according to family members were married and had a young child that they left with Farook's mother on the morning of the attack. Both young parents were killed in a dramatic shootout near their SUV following a lengthy police pursuit that left two officers with minor injuries.

Farook's coworkers at the San Bernardino County public health office, who were attending a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center, appear to have been the primary targets. According to law enforcement officials, he was employed as an environmental specialist, and had worked for the department for five years.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. All photos by author

Earlier Wednesday, there had been talk of a third suspect, and officials said someone had been taken into custody, but at the end of the night Burguan downplayed the possibility of an additional shooter. He said he was confident that the Redlands neighborhood where the suspects were initially found was now safe for residents, and seemed to suggest that the third person had just been picked up as a precaution.

"Other responding vehicles that saw this person fleeing from the scene stopped him and detained him," Burguan told reporters.

There has been widespread speculation that Farook was a disgruntled employee. Burguan told the press that the suspect had been at the party, but had stormed out "under some circumstances that were described as angry, or something of that nature."

But why Farook and Malik decided to open fire on a conference room full of public health workers is still very much unclear. When I first arrived on the scene Wednesday, an hour or so after the shooting, a witness named David Johnson, a life coach who had heard some of the gunshots from several blocks away, declared in an interview that the shooting proved "terrorism is real!" although at the time police had not yet found any suspects, let alone killed or identified them.

Terrorism may be real, but at press time, it was by no means clear that Wednesday's attack was an act of terrorism, or, for that matter, that it had any ideological motivation.

"I'm really being careful, because when these types of things happen—we've seen it happen time and again—a lot of information comes out in the first day or couple days, but that information changes in the days that follow," Burguan said Wednesday.

In his various briefings, Burguan has doled out carefully-worded quotes, taking the utmost care not to share details that aren't ironclad. When asked late Wednesday if the event the shooters attacked was a Christmas party, for instance, the police chief said he'd heard it described as anything from "a meeting to a Christmas gathering-meeting-luncheon."

According to representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the suspects used two assault rifles: a DPMS and a Smith and Wesson M&P15, along with semiautomatic pistols. At least two of the guns were apparently purchased legally. Following the shootout with law enforcement, officials discovered that the suspects were also in possession of at least one device believed to be a pipe bomb.

The tragic shooting, and the ensuing manhunt turned the city and county into a confusing mess. Although San Bernardino is by no means a stranger to gun crime, the normally quiet suburb doesn't see giant shows of police force very often.

Inland Regional Center, a nonprofit social services center for people with disabilities, is a place where, for instance, the parents of someone with autism can sign them up for one-on-one assistance. The idea of planning a mass murder at a spot with such an unimpeachable mission adds an extra layer of horror to Wednesday's tragedy.

And plan it they did, according to Chief Burguan, who believes "there had to be some sort of planning that went into this," deadpanning, "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."

Unmarked law enforcement vehicles raced through the streets in every direction for hours Wednesday afternoon, and bewildered crowds of bystanders—along with members of the press—stood on sidewalks outside of police corners until well into the chilly night. As reporters waited for the final police press conference around 10 PM local time, the grassy area designated for media updates became a swamp after sprinklers suddenly turned on.

At the soggy late-night news conference, Burguan declined to provide any details about the victims. "We are just now getting in there and starting to process the crime scene," he said. "I don't have identification on any of the victims at this point."

Image via Google Street View

According to Burguan, the possible presence of explosives slowed down officers' ability to access the scene. He explained that the site had to be rendered safe for law enforcement before anyone could be allowed near the scene of the shooting. The Inland Regional Center occupies a massive piece of property, and as of late Wednesday, several blocks in every direction were still marked off as the crime scene.

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This post has been updated.