In the latest burst of deadly gun violence in the U.S., two heavily armed assailants entered a social-services agency in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday and opened fire during a holiday party.
At least 14 people were killed in the initial attack and another 17 were injured, according to San Bernardino police officials.
About four hours later, local police located a dark-colored SUV and engaged in a shootout that killed two suspects, one male and one female. They were later identified as Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, the latter believed to be Farook’s girlfriend or wife.
Farook, a U.S. citizen, worked for San Bernardino County and attended the party where the shootings took place, and “did leave it early under some circumstances that were described as angry,” San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. Farook subsequently returned to the event with Malik, both dressed in “assault-style” clothing and carrying .223 Cal assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns.
Police initially thought there might have been three shooters but are now confident that there were only two — Farook and Malik. A third person seen fleeing the scene was later detained, Burguan said.
At least one police officer was wounded in the gunfight with the suspects in the SUV, according to Sgt. Vicki Cervantes of the San Bernardino Police Department. The officer’s injuries were not life-threatening.
Terrorism “is a possibility” as the authorities continue their investigation, said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s L.A. office. “I am still not willing to say that we know that for sure.”
The initial shooting rampage took place around 11 a.m. PT in a large conference room at the sprawling Inland Regional Center, a facility providing medical and health services to people with developmental disabilities.
The assailants, who carried long guns, opened fire during a holiday party for employees of the San Bernardino County Public Health Department, according to the L.A. Times. The paper said public records showed Farook worked at the department as an environmental health specialist.
Eyewitnesses reported that the suspects wore ski masks and what looked like body armor, according to Los Angeles television station ABC 7. The station also reported eyewitness accounts that the gunmen were carrying rifles.
Though the motive for the attack was not clear, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said, “They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission.”
Burguan also described several objects discovered inside the building that were not immediately identifiable, and bomb technicians were called in to assess the situation. Around 5:35 p.m., Burguan said that at least one object was found that was suspected to be an explosive device of a pipe bomb-type design.
Inland Regional Center, located 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has roughly 670 staffer serving more than 30,000 members.
The suspects fled the scene after the attack in a dark-colored SUV.
The subsequent police investigation led to a residence in Redlands, Burguan said. While officers were waiting, a vehicle was seen leaving, which led to a pursuit.
That chase ended in a deadly exchange of gunfire around 3 p.m. PT on East San Bernardino Ave., a residential street roughly one mile away from Inland Regional Center.
President Barack Obama, who was briefed on the incident, denounced the attack in an interview with CBS News.
“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” Obama said, calling for “commonsense gun-safety laws, stronger background checks.”
Thom Geier and Anita Bennett contributed to this report.