San Bernardino Residents: The City Had Pretty Awful Gun Violence Before Today

The California city suffered a mass shooting that grabbed headlines Wednesday, but those who live near the scene say shootings are an everyday part of their lives.
December 3, 2015, 3:05am
Marisa Hernandez. (Photo par Brooke Workneh / VICE News)

The San Bernardino mass shooting, in which 14 people were killed and 21 others injured on Wednesday at a state facility that served developmentally disabled people, has focused America's attention on the California city located about 70 miles east of Los Angeles. Hours after the shooting, San Bernardino resident Marisa Hernandez wondered why it took an incident of this magnitude for the country to care about the city's problem with gun violence.

"My son was shot to death with an AK-47. My nephew was murdered and his body was burned and buried," Hernandez said, standing on a street corner a block from the Inland Regional Center, the site of Wednesday's shootings. "But because it happens at a state facility, suddenly everyone is paying attention? This type of mass shootings happens everyday here to our kids and nobody stops it, nobody does anything. Literally everyday. The mayor never comes out to speak to the community, but today he's out speaking about what happened."

Marisa Hernandez talks to VICE News about gun violence in San Bernardino.

Tears in her eyes, she held a megaphone, a picture of her dead 22-year-old son, Richard Leyva, and the headrest from the car in which she said he was murdered on September 11, 2011. The headrest appeared to have a bullet hole in it. (Leyva's murder is still unresolved.)

In a statement after Wednesday's shooting, San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis said, "Our community experienced severe loss and severe shock today. It is critical that in moments like these, our City unites in supporting the victims, their families and the effort against crime in our city."

Hernandez said she was angry about the massive police presence and the barrage of television cameras, and questioned why law enforcement, government officials, and the media are only now paying attention to the violence in her community. Gun violence in the city, and especially around Waterman Avenue, not far from where the Inland Regional Center is located, occurs all the time, she said.

Media gathered near the scene of the shootings.(Photo by Brooke Workneh/VICE News)

The same day Hernandez's son was killed, a 3-year-old girl was also shot to death in another part of San Bernardino. The infant's 4-year-old cousin and pregnant aunt were shot and wounded as well. But Hernandez said the mayor didn't issue a statement that day and the media didn't descend upon San Bernardino to cover the crimes.

In the 1980s and 90s, San Bernardino was known as a "murder capital," a police spokesman said last year. Crime dropped after that, but in 2012, the city was forced to declare bankruptcy; that year, the murder rate rose 50 percent as city services were cut back.

Andreas Montalvo, who works at a Shell gas station near the facility, told VICE News he hears at least one gun shot a day as a result of gang activity.

But he could tell Wednesday's shooting — the deadliest in the country since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — was different.

"The first two gunshots, it was just like, okay, you know, gunshots — it was like a boom, boom," he said. But then there was "a little slight pause and then it was like boom, boom, boom, boom, a lot of continuous gun shots," he said. "I'm used to gunshots, but when it comes to a vast amount of gunshots like that, it still shocks someone because it's so many at a rapid succession, so right then and there I knew, yeah, something's not right."

He was at outside at the gas pump, filling a customer's propane tank when the first shots rang out.

"You can hear gun shots probably once a day, twice a day," he said. "But then once law enforcement comes in heavily — as in more than 30 or 40 policemen are arriving at the scene — then you know it's something more serious compared to the regular basis."

Women pray a few blocks from the scene of the shootings. (Photo by Brooke Workneh/VICE News)

Montalvo said he headed inside the gas station with the customer after the first shots were fired.

"As we were walking inside maybe about 10 police cruisers rushed down the street and then local police, and then about 20 cruisers, and then next thing you know it was undercover, and then you seen highway patrol coming, and so then after that I knew it was something big because it was so many of them."

He said surveillance video at the gas station may have captured footage of suspects fleeing the scene, and that Shell called in a company they work with to pull the footage. "It catches the full corner of the street, so they were looking to see if they can catch the SUV that drove by," Montalvo said.

Authorities said that it is a "possibility" that the attacks were related to terrorism. The shooters, suspected to be a couple named as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire on a holiday party for employees of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Police believe Farook left the party after a dispute before returning later with Malik to carry out the shootings.

(Photo by Brooke Workneh/VICE News)

A massive federal and local law enforcement presence was on display at the scene of the shooting, with agents from the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives present alongside dozens of officers from surrounding municipalities.

A woman named Denise, who teaches first grade at Norton Elementary School, located about a mile away from the Inland Regional Center, said Wednesday's shooting "is nothing new."

"I run into too many things I don't want to see," she told VICE News. "Drive-by shootings, gang bangers on the loose, funerals for someone who was shot. You just don't hear about those things on the news."

Denise was unable to go home on Wednesday because police had blocked off her street, so she gathered at the Shell gas station with other local residents. She said the elementary school was shut down when parents started calling the school after hearing reports of a shooting on the news.

"All the parents panicked and came to pick up their kids," she said. "We were told by the school that it was a shooting and a bomb."

A man sits in handcuffs after an unrelated car crash that occurred in the midst of police pursuit of the suspects. (Photo by Phoebe Barghouty/VICE News)

Kenneth Kilpatrick, who lives around the corner from the scene of the shooting, said he was working with power tools in a shed in his backyard when the first shots rang out, and so he didn't hear them.

"A friend of mine called and said, 'Hey, have you saw what happened, and heard what happened?'" Kilpatrick said. "So I went in and turned on the news, and I'm seeing all this right here where I grew up."

He too said violence is not unusual in San Bernardino.

"The most that's happened here, as in any other hood, are street killings," he said. "Close family members in some instances…. This is San Bernardino, the east side of San Bernardino."

With additional reporting by Phoebe Barghouty, Brooke Workneh and Aidan Sheldon

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold

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