SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — A 28-year-old health inspector and the woman he lived with went on a murderous rampage at a meeting inside a social service center Wednesday, killing at least 14 people before fleeing and dying in a gun battle with police.
Syed R. Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire inside the Inland Regional Center and injured at least 17 others. The motive is unknown, although police quote some witnesses as saying Farook had attended the annual holiday party, left in a fit of anger, and returned with Malik. The couple — who met online and who became acquainted in Saudi Arabia — were decked out in body armor and armed with assault rifles and handguns.
Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said that following the late-morning massacre, the pair fled in a dark-colored SUV but were shortly tracked down by police, who riddled the vehicle with bullets. Both Farook and Malik died at the scene.
Burguan said that although initial reports indicated that as many as three shooters may have been involved, “we are confident now” that Farook and Malik acted alone. He said Farook, and Malik were “either boyfriend-girlfriend or husband and wife.” He said Farook was born in the United States but he did not know not know Malik’s background.
The FBI is investigating possible motives, including workplace violence and terrorism, according to David Bowdich, assistant director of the bureau’s Los Angeles office. He did not elaborate.
All four firearms, two rifles and two handguns, that were recovered Wednesday from the two dead suspects appear to have been purchased legally from a federally licensed dealer, a federal law enforcement official said Thursday. The weapons were traced to a point of sale within two hours after the trace requests were submitted, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly.
Chris Nwadike, who worked with Farook as a restaurant inspector associated with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, said that Wednesday’s meeting was one of two “general education” meetings the department holds each year. The meeting was routine, in which employees were to be given employee rewards and other recognition.
Nwadike said he was sitting at a table with Farook, who he knew from around the office. He said that at some point, more than 30 minutes before the shooting, he and his co-workers noticed Farook had left. They noticed because the meeting organizers were handing out “clickers” — the sort that might be used to register votes during a presentation — and someone asked that they leave one for Farook. He also said Farook left something behind at his seat.
“He left and he didn’t come back,” Nwadike said.
Nwadike said the meeting was on a 15-minute break when the shooting happened. Many of the participants were outside of the meeting room. Nwadike said he was in the bathroom. “If everybody was there, it could have been a total massacre,” he said.
While in the bathroom, Nwadike heard the shooting begin. He heard one especially loud boom and thought that something had fallen.
“The very first one was a big blast; we thought that something may have fallen down,” he said. “That was followed by gunfire. He said that he and the others in the bathroom laid down on the floor and remained there until police officers escorted them out of the building. He did not go back into the meeting room. He said he had no idea how many shots were fired; “there were quite a number of shots.