SAN BERNARDINO, California — They dropped off their baby daughter with family members and said they were heading to a doctor’s appointment.
Instead, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, embarked on a sinister mission that would leave 14 dead and 21 others suffering from serious gunshot wounds.
A police SWAT team took out the married couple during a shootout on a suburban street four hours after the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. The death toll could have been far higher if an improvised explosive device left at the scene had detonated as planned.
The target of their sick commando-style assault was a holiday party being held for Farook and his health department colleagues.
Patrick Baccari, one of his co-workers, told The Daily Beast that the gunman had arrived for work as usual that morning. “He showed up a little late to the meeting, no big deal. Nine, 10 o’clock, we were having photos taken,” he said.
Farook, an environmental health specialist, then walked out of the party, leaving his coat on his chair, before returning at around 11 a.m. dressed in combat gear and brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle.
Baccari was in the bathroom when the shooting started. “I saw holes in the walls, and I told everybody to get on the floor,” he told The Daily Beast.
When the shooting was over, Baccari realized he had suffered minor shrapnel injuries and “pulled some little scraps of metal out."
Many of his co-workers suffered far worse. He said of one female colleague, “I could see three bullets lodged beneath her skin.”
She was among the lucky ones. Fourteen people died inside the Inland Regional Center, a facility for disabled people, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
The two suspects drove calmly to a Redlands, California, house after the shooting in a black sport-utility vehicle. At the scene of their crime, they left three inter-connected pipe bombs and a remote-control car, which law enforcement officials believe was supposed to be used as a trigger. The device never exploded.
When police approached the couple’s house, after a tip-off from survivors of the attack, the couple fled in the vehicle, which was packed with weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
They were shot dead during a car chase about two miles from the attack. One suspect reportedly fired shots out of the back of the vehicle as police gave chase; two officers were injured in the shootout before Farook and Malik were killed. Police said they were found with AR-15 rifles and vests to hold ammunition clips.
Back at the house, there were 12 more pipe bombs and hundreds of tools that could be used to manufacture improvised explosive devices. The suburban home had been transformed into a bombmaking factory. In total, the couple had 4,500 rounds of unspent ammunition.
“These people came prepared,” Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said during a press conference Wednesday.
Burguan said the shooters’ motives are unknown, but “obviously, at minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here.” By Thursday morning, FBI officials told The New York Times that they had uncovered links to domestic extremists and terror suspects overseas.
Police and SWAT cleared the building and evacuated all employees and people inside. Footage of the evacuation showed women and children being led out of the building as an officer tried to reassure them. “Just relax,” he said. “I’ll take a bullet before you do, that’s for damn sure.”
Luis Gutierrez’s wife, Janet, works at Inland Regional. He said he could hear crying and the crackle of gunfire after his wife called him as she watched the terror unfold before her eyes.
“She called me a little bit after 10:30 and she was crying,” Gutierrez said. “She said, ‘There’s a shooter and he’s downstairs.’”
Janet Gutierrez, a 30-year-old coordinator who helps low-income patients receive therapy, hunkered down in her upstairs office with co-workers and described one of the killers to her husband.
“She was looking out her window and saw the [man] dressed in all black with a mask on and a big gun,” he said. “I hear a commotion and I hear several shots before she put down the phone.”
“Tat-tat-tat,” he said was how it sounded. “He didn’t say anything but I could hear them.”
Arriving at his wife’s workplace, Gutierrez had no idea if his wife was OK, but then he got the good news.
“I got the call from her using a strange number, a friend’s phone, and said she was OK,” he said.
Inland Regional employs 670 people and has provided an estimated 30,000 people with care over the past 40 years. The center serves people with developmental disabilities, from children to adults. On the day before the shooting, the center hosted a holiday party.
Keith Nelson, vice president of Inland Regional’s board of trustees, told CNN the conference room where the attack happened was being used by members of the County of San Bernardino Department of Public Health. “It was a nondescriptive holiday event,” he said, adding that the group was not aware of any possible threats.
Glenn Willwerth, 45, owner of a paper-products company across from the Inland Regional Center, headed right toward the shooters as soon as he found out the center was under attack Wednesday.
Willwerth said he and his 12 employees were at J&S Paper Products when a man ran into their offices looking scared and stricken.
“The guy said, ‘They’re shooting people’ out there, ‘Watch out,’ and he came in to stay with us,” Willwerth told The Daily Beast by phone.
Willwerth said he ordered his employees to “hunker down” and went for his .45-caliber handgun. Willwerth said he headed out the door in the direction of the shots.
“I knew right away they were coming from assault rifles. I heard at least 10 or 15 shots.”
Willwerth said the scene was utter chaos.
“People were running away and ducking for cover,” he said. He “posted up” behind a water truck and watched the scene unfold. At one point, he saw the silhouette of at least one man come out and get into a black SUV with black windows. He said he could not see more than one person.
Willwerth said he noted that the black SUV was driven very calmly and smoothly out of the parking lot.
“It struck me how slow they were going, like they didn’t want to stick out.”
Diana Ramos was expecting a simple birthday celebration with her social-worker sister Elsi. “It was supposed to just be a dinner at my house,” she told The Daily Beast. “Now we’re going to celebrate her coming home instead of my birthday.”
Diana Ramos received a text message around 8:30 a.m. from her sister. It read “Happy birthday diva!”
But then Elsi sent a grave follow-up text message less than two hours later: “There’s an active shooter at work don’t tell mom.”
Elsi Ramos, 25, had managed to barricade herself with approximately 20 fellow employees in her unit at the Inland Regional Center, where she had been treating autistic patents and making house calls from for the past six months.
“Right when she sent that I called 911 right away,” Diana, who experienced the event from afar on her phone, told The Daily Beast.
The dispatcher asked where her sister was located. Diana replied that she was on the second floor.
“She said she heard some of the shots—that’s how close she was,” Diana added.
Elsi and her co-workers, including a pregnant woman, managed to barricade themselves with a desk and a couch in the main office “so no one could come in” while people in a neighboring section of the building were executed.
She kept texting her younger sister.
“We’re going to hide.”
And then again: “We’re hiding in the only room that has a lock.”
That was her boss’s office.
All the while Diana was being coached on what to ask her sister by the 911 operator, who gave Diana instructions on how to keep everybody from losing their wits.
Diana told Elsi to be “the voice of reason.” Her sister admitted she was scared. “I’m shaking,” she texted.
The pregnant woman started experiencing stomach pains.
The 911 operator assured Diana that firefighters and medics were already en route.
“She kept trying to keep everybody relaxed. By then she said she could hear people next door and the gunshots,” she said. “I’m waiting for her here.”
At around 7 p.m. a bus unloaded. Diana waited and waited, and then finally she saw her sister pacing through the throng of media, and she almost couldn’t move.
But they soon embraced and walked together.
— with additional reporting by Dana Kennedy