A man and a woman suspected of taking part in a shooting that killed 14 people and wounded 17 at a Southern California social services agency on Wednesday died in a shootout with police hours later, authorities said.
A Muslim advocacy group said one of the suspects was Syed Farook, and introduced a man as Farook’s brother-in-law, who said he had no idea what might have motivated the attack. He said his relative was a US citizen.
Officials later confirmed that the suspects had been identified as Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27. They were described as possibly married or engaged.
The suspects fled the scene of the shooting in San Bernardino, about 100 km east of Los Angeles, and died a few hours later in a shootout when police confronted them in their getaway vehicle. One police officer was injured.
The shooting rampage at a holiday party on the campus of an agency that serves the developmentally disabled marked the deadliest US gun violence since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, in which 27 people, including the gunman, were killed.
At a news conference called by the Los Angeles area chapter of the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a man who identified himself as Farhan Khan said his sister was married to one of the suspects and he offered his condolences to the victims.
“Why would he do that? Why would he do something like this? I have absolutely no idea, I am in shock myself,” Khan said at a news conference in Anaheim, California, south of Los Angeles.
Farook and his wife have been missing since Wednesday morning, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR in the Los Angeles area.
A person by the name of Syed Farook was listed on county documents as an employee of the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Department. Staff members from that department had gathered on Wednesday for the party where the shooters opened fire.
The massacre differed from most other recent US killing sprees in key ways, including the involvement of multiple people rather than a lone perpetrator. It also comes less than three weeks after the deadly attacks in Paris prompted tighter security at many public venues across the United States.
Authorities said they also detained an individual seen running away from the vehicle, but investigators were not immediately sure that person was involved in the case, Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a news conference.
Burguan said the two suspects who were killed were armed with assault rifles and handguns and were dressed in “assault-style” clothing.
The police chief said he knew of no possible motive for the attack.
David Bowdich, an assistant regional FBI director, said authorities had not yet ruled out whether the shooting was an act of terrorism.
“It is a possibility, but we don’t know that,” he told reporters. “It’s possible it goes down that road. It’s possible it does not.”
Burguan said earlier, “Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic-type, terrorist-type situation that occurred here.”
The attack took place on the campus of the Inland Regional Center, in a building housing a conference center that was being used for the holiday celebration, authorities said.
String of shootings
So far in 2015, there have been more than 350 shootings in which four or more people were wounded, according to the crowd-sourced website shootingtracker.com, which keeps a running tally of US gun violence.
The shooting in California comes less than a week after a gunman killed three people and wounded nine in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In October, a gunman killed nine people at a college in Oregon, and in June, a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.
Gun control advocates, including Democratic President Barack Obama, say easy access to firearms is a major factor in the shooting epidemic, while the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun advocates say the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to bear arms. – Reuters
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman and Mary Milliken; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)