Arsenal of explosives, ammunition found at home of San Bernardino attackers as FBI seeks motive
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Authorities said Thursday they are looking for a motive behind the deadliest U.S. mass shooting in nearly three years, even as they revealed that the attackers had amassed a stockpile of explosives and ammunition.
The rampage by two shooters Wednesday killed 14 people and wounded 21. Four hours later, 23 law enforcement officers from seven different agencies engaged in a frenzied shootout that left the two suspects — a husband and wife — dead on a residential street.
The FBI has taken over the investigation, with authorities scrutinizing three crime scenes: The Inland Regional Center, the site of the mass shooting; the street in San Bernardino where the police and the suspects had their gun battle; and the rented home in Redlands where authorities said the suspects had an arsenal of pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Police said Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, a county health worker born in Chicago, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, his Pakistani wife in the U.S. on a visa, were both dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, handguns and multiple ammunition magazines when they strode into a holiday party for county workers Wednesday morning. They opened fire, spraying 65 to 75 rounds and leaving behind an unexploded pipe bomb before fleeing in a rented black Ford Expedition.
Authorities on Thursday afternoon identified the victims of the shooting, listing their names, ages and cities: Shannon Johnson, 45, Los Angeles; Bennetta Bet-Badal, 46, Rialto; Aurora Godoy, 26, San Jacinto; Isaac Amanios, 60, Fontana; Larry Kaufman, 42, Rialto; Harry Bowman, 46, Upland; Yvette Velasco, 27, Fontana; Sierra Clayborn, 27, Moreno Valley; Robert Adams, 40, Yucaipa; Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Colton; Tin Nguyen, 31, Santa Ana; Juan Espinoza, 50, Highland; Damian Meins, 58, Riverside; and Michael Wetzel, 37, Lake Arrowhead.
Farook had been with his colleagues at the party earlier in the morning, police said. Authorities could not say conclusively whether there had been a dispute that led to Farook leaving the party. But police said a survivor of the shooting told them that Farook slipped away prior to the massacre. When police checked the name, they saw that Farook had rented an SUV that matched the description of the suspected getaway car.
That led authorities to stake out the couple’s home in Redlands. When the SUV rolled by, and then sped away, police chased it until the SUV stopped on San Bernardino Avenue, a few miles from the massacre. Police said the suspects fired 76 rifle rounds; police fired 380. The SUV, so riddled with bullets that it looked like it had been hit with a bomb, was due back at the rental agency that day, police said.
No one saw this attack coming. Farook’s supervisor, Amanda Adair, who went to college with Farook, told The Post, “He got along with everybody, but he kept his distance. I can’t imagine it was about work.”
She said she had no inkling that he might be plotting a mass shooting.
“Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He didn’t seem like he was going to kill everybody. He just seemed quiet,” she said.
“We do not yet know the motive,” David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said at a news conference. “It would be irresponsible and premature for me to call this terrorism.”
“At this stage, we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred,” President Obama said at the White House. “It is possible this was terrorist-related, but we don’t know. It is also possible this was workplace related.”
Officials were looking at social media contacts between one of the suspected attackers and people with ties to terrorism. So far the connections appear insignificant. A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Farook was in contact with persons of interest with possible ties to terrorism. Some of the contacts, which were years old, were made through social media.
“These were not substantial contacts,” the official said. “Those contacts would not have put him on our radar. We certainly saw that contact but it was insignificant. You’re allowed to like someone’s Facebook page.”
The official said the FBI has yet to find definitive evidence that the couple had been radicalized or were looking at jihadist websites or reading terrorist literature such as Inspire magazine.
“It’s very odd,” the official said. “It appears they were a happy couple of the Muslim faith.”
Police said after the shooting spree and a bloody gun battle in the streets here, they found 12 “pipe bomb-type devices” at the home in Redlands, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. Another set of three pipe bombs combined into one — and designed to be triggered by remote control from a car, although the device apparently malfunctioned — was also found at the scene of the mass shooting, authorities said.
Officials said the two attackers were killed after nearly two dozen police officers engaged in a firefight with them. Police also found more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition on the attackers, suggesting they were prepared for a long siege.
“The FBI is chasing down any contacts these two may have had and whether those contacts are indicative of radicalization or external plotting or are purely incidental,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Schiff, citing a briefing Thursday on the attack, said that “on the basis of what I heard and where the [FBI] was I wouldn’t conclude that there was radicalization here.”
Still, Schiff said it did not appear to be “an act of spontaneous workplace violence,” but he added that it could have been the culmination of a longer-term grievance with the attacker’s employer.
Authorities said at the news conference that they had gathered a number of items they were using to probe the digital trail of the suspects, including thumb drives, computers and cellphones that were being analyzed.
“There appears to be a degree of planning that went into this,” San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said. “Nobody just gets upset at a party, goes home and puts together that kind of elaborate scheme or plan.”
“They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission,” Burguan said during an earlier news conference.
Authorities said Thursday morning that the injury toll had risen to 21 people, an increase from the 17 people they previously said were wounded. Two law enforcement officials were also injured during the shootout with the suspects, but the wounds are not life-threatening, police said.
About 300 local, county, state and federal law enforcement officers responded to the scene, a massive response to the country’s deadliest mass shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
Police say they had recovered four weapons: Two assault rifles and two 9mm pistols, all of which were legally purchased, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Two of these weapons were traced back to one of the assailants, said Dannette Seward, a spokeswoman for the ATF, while the other two were traced to another person. That is still being investigated, she said.
The attack came just five days after police say a gunman in Colorado Springs killed three people and injured nine others, the latest in a recent run of mass shootings that terrorized a community college in Roseburg, Ore., a church in Charleston, S.C., and a movie theater in Lafayette, La.
Anxiety also lingers from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. The Islamic State, a violent militant group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for that attack that triggered a crackdown on migrants in Europe and calls for heightened security in the United States.
Even as evidence was being collected and analyzed, with some flown to an FBI lab in Washington, police outlined a massive stockpile of ammunition and weapons, suggesting that further bloodshed may have been possible. In addition to the 12 pipe bombs and extra rounds, police say they found materials that could have been used to produce additional bombs.
“Clearly, they were equipped and could have continued to do another attack,” Burguan said.
The police chief said they did not appear to have a specific target in the morning attack.
“They sprayed the room with bullets,” Burguan said. “I don’t know that there was any one person that they ultimately targeted.”
Before the attack, they dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother, saying they had a doctor’s appointment, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles.
Farook was at the gathering for a time before leaving, but it was unclear why, Burguan said. He said that some indications were that Farook was angry, but another witness said Farook seemed to just disappear.
Burguan repeatedly said it did not appear likely that a dispute at the party could have been the sole cause of the massacre.
“I don’t think they grabbed the guns and tactical gear on a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Burguan said.
The Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, a mosque that Farook’s brother-in-law Farhan Khan has attended, was quiet Thursday. Perched on a scenic road in Corona, about 30 minutes from San Bernardino, the center is undergoing a major construction project; scaffolding surrounds a new prayer building now being built.
Jess Abed, a longtime active member of the mosque community who said he did not know Farook, said Muslims in the area were on “on edge” after Wednesday’s events.
“When you hear a Muslim name” associated with one of the suspects, there is concern about conclusions that people may draw, said Abed, who is originally from Jordan.
Ray Abboud, who has also attended the mosque for years, said Muslims in the community were horrified by the shooting. He said he shares the concerns that the public will paint Muslims with one brush.
“It breaks our hearts to see 14 people die,” he said. “We feel sorry everything that happened but we can’t blame ourselves for being Muslim.”
He said people in the community were keeping a close watch on their children “to make sure they don’t fall into any crazy stuff.”
Muslim community leader Ayloush described Malik as a Pakistani-born immigrant who lived in Saudi Arabia before marrying Farook. Two FBI officials told The Washington Post that Farook was not under FBI investigation. It’s not clear whether he had links to any other people under FBI investigation.
A third person seen fleeing the shootout was also taken into custody, but it remained unclear whether there was any link to the couple.
“Right now, as we continue to drill down our information, it looks like we have two shooters,” Burguan said. “We are comfortable that the two shooters that went into the building are the two shooters that are deceased.”
“I have no idea why he would do something like this,” Farhan Khan, who is married to Farook’s sister, said at a news conference. “I cannot express how sad I am today.”
The two left behind little in the way of a paper trail — no apparent criminal record, no Facebook page or Twitter account. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, co-workers who knew Farook described him as a quiet and polite man who held no obvious grudges against people in the office. They said he recently traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with a woman he met online.
The office had recently held a shower for the couple’s new baby, and the two seemed to be “living the American dream,” said Patrick Baccari, a fellow inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook.
Berman and Achenbach reported from Washington. Freelance writers Martha Grove and William Dauber in San Bernardino and staff writers Greg Miller, Brian Murphy, Adam Goldman, Lindsey Bever, Niraj Chokshi, Ann Gerhart, Sari Horwitz, Elahe Izadi, Wesley Lowery, Eli Saslow, Kevin Sullivan, Julie Tate, Justin Wm. Moyer, Yanan Wang, Sarah Kaplan and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.
[This story has been updated. First published: 11:30 a.m.]