A woman who lay among the wounded moaning in pain and others cowering in fear during the San Bernardino terror attack tasted blood and sensed death was near. When she called out to a colleague and asked her to say goodbye to her mother, the other woman tried to assure her she was going to make it.“I’m not, I’m bleeding from the mouth,” she said before closing her eyes a final time.
The woman’s story emerged in a lengthy review of the police response to the Dec. 2 attack by a husband and wife armed with semi-automatic rifles who stormed a conference room where the man’s colleagues from the San Bernardino County Health Department were attending a training event and holiday gathering. Fourteen people were killed and 22 were wounded in the massacre.
An in-depth report based on that probe provided new information Friday, including efforts by three men to stop the gunfire and details on how the Islamic extremists who carried out the massacre died in a police shootout.
The report by the Police Foundation, a policy study group, and the Department of Justice, gave law enforcement high marks for their rapid response, though it pointed out areas of confusion or challenges they faced as they entered the scene of such horrific bloodshed.
The first four officers who arrived at the scene after several reports of a shooting, prepared for the worst, thinking the shooters were still stalking the large building complex of the Inland Regional Center.
“I felt so naked, because we didn’t have cover and concealment approaching the building,” said a patrol officer, who like most of the first responders and witnesses was granted confidentiality in the report. “You know you are outgunned, it is going to be hard to beat an AR with a handgun.”
What officers didn’t know at the time was that Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were gone. What they wouldn’t discover for six hours was that Farook had left behind a bag in the conference room with three pipe bombs to be triggered remotely. Luckily, the detonating device didn’t work.
The report said investigators now think the bombs were supposed to be set off when first responders arrived.
Farook, a health inspector, had been present at the meeting, but got up and left before a break. He returned a short time later clad in black, wearing a mask and armed with a semi-automatic rifle. His wife was also wearing black and toting an assault rifle.
The first victims had been shot outside the conference room. One man appeared to have been eating lunch at a picnic table and another man was found still holding his cellphone.
Colleagues inside had heard popping sounds, but many didn’t recognize the sound of gunfire until the doors burst open and a man in black they didn’t recognize started spraying bullets. People ran in horror, some dove to the floor and others fell from the fusillade. His wife _ also disguised and not recognizable _ entered and also opened fire.
Even then, some weren’t sure what was happening, with one county official taking cover and thinking it was the “most glorified training” he had ever seen.
“Probably on the second or third clip, it finally clicked that this wasn’t an exercise,” he said.
Three men rushed one of the shooters, but were cut down by gunfire. The report didn’t make clear if any survived, though a federal prosecutor hailed their sacrifice.
“These victims had no chance to protect themselves as a result of the callous perpetration of violence, while others heroically sacrificed themselves in an attempt to stop the shooting,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement. “In the face of this unfathomable suffering, the law enforcement personnel and citizens who put themselves in harm’s way to help others exemplifies the very best that our country has to offer.”
The couple calmly reloaded several times over the course of two to three minutes. They appeared to look for signs victims might still be alive, shooting one or more bullets into those who made a sound or moved.
When they left _ after firing 85 rounds _ the scene was pandemonium and horror. A fire alarm was shrieking. Water poured down from a fire sprinkler struck by gunfire. The smell of gunpowder and smoke filled the air. Blood was everywhere.
The carnage looked “like a bomb had gone off,” the report said.
“It was the worst thing imaginable,” the patrol officer said. “Some people were quiet, hiding, others were screaming or dying, grabbing at your legs because they wanted us to get them out, but our job at the moment was to keep going.”
A rookie officer took a crucial report from a survivor, who said Farook had left the meeting early and there was something about the shooter’s body language that looked similar.
That eventually led officers to Farook and Malik’s apartment in nearby Redlands hours later. The two left in a rented black SUV and were trailed by several undercover officers. When a sergeant in a squad car joined in and tried to pull the couple over, his vehicle was hit by gun fire.
Farook then abruptly stopped and he and Malik began shooting at officers in the street, who took cover behind vehicles and returned fire.
The couple shot 81 bullets at police before being outgunned by two dozen officers who fired 440 rounds. One officer was shot in the leg and a deputy was grazed by a bullet.
Farook was struck 25 times, mostly in the legs. Malik was shot twice in the head, and had 13 other wounds.
Police found more than 2,000 rounds of ammo in the vehicle, along with first-aid equipment.