Thousands of San Bernardino County employees are returning to work, days after a county worker and his wife opened fire on a gathering of his co-workers. Officials say they’ll be increasing the number of armed security guards as well. (Dec. 7)
Emotional San Bernardino County employees began ramping up normal functions amid tight security Monday, five days after 14 people were killed in a shooting rampage at a county employee holiday event.
Meanwhile, federal authorities are trying to determine when and how the shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook, a county restaurant inspector, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik — obtained the rifles used in the attack.
“Our hearts are heavy, but we must move forward,” County Board Chairman James Ramos said.
David Bowdich, FBI assistant director in charge of the investigation, said at a news conference Monday in San Bernardino that authorities believe both shooters were “radicalized” but that so far there is no evidence that the killers were part of an international plot.
Bowdich said there was evidence that Farook and Malik had practiced shooting at local ranges in recent days, including just before the attack at the Inland Regional Center. Bowdich called the investigation “massive,” saying more than 400 interviews had been conducted and more than 300 pieces of evidence amassed.
“We believe that both were radicalized and had been for some time,” Bowdich said of the couple. He said it was not clear if one or the other had led the attack.
Authorities are taking a closer look at the source of the assault-style rifles: a Riverside, Calif., man and former Farook neighbor, according to a federal law enforcement official who is not authorized to comment publicly. The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun reported Monday that Farook and Malik were armed with guns obtained between 2007 and 2012, and that investigators are still trying to determine when and how the pair acquired two rifles from former neighbor Enrique Marquez.
Twelve of those killed in Wednesday’s attack were county employees, and only essential employees have worked since. Ramos said security will be stepped up at many county buildings, including the addition of armed guards at some locations. The sheriff’s department also was increasing surveillance, he said.
Increasing security is a major task for a county with more than 20,000 employees and a population of more than 2 million people spread over 20,000 square miles.
“We are hearing from employees about what would make them feel safe in their (work) environment,” Ramos said. “This has hit us all hard.”
The shooting took place in a conference room where about 80 county environmental health employees were gathered for a training session and holiday celebration. Farook briefly attended the event, but left and then returned minutes later with his wife. The couple, armed with semiautomatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, opened fire on the crowd, then fled. In addition to the fatalities, 21 people were wounded.
A short time later both Farook and Malik were killed in a shootout with police. Authorities are investigating the case as a terrorist attack.
Environmental health workers won’t return to work until Dec. 14. Authorities said grief counselors were available for all county workers.
Trudy Raymundo, head of the county health department, said her department appreciated the outpouring of support from across that nation and around the world. The Arrowhead United Way in San Bernardino has helped establish a relief fund for the victims. Raymundo said she has visited the wounded at various area hospitals.
“We mourn the loss of our fallen friends and pray for those injured to recover,” she said. “Some of us witnessed horrific scenes unfold in front of our eyes. This has shaken all of us. Yet, we are grateful for the many lives that were spared.”
Investigators have found Malik posted a message of support for Islamic State just prior to the attacks. The Facebook post, authorities have said, was made in another name. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch cautioned Monday that authorities were not yet ready to ascribe the attack as specifically inspired by the Islamic State.
“We’re not prepared to limit the ideology to what inspired these individuals,’’ Lynch said at a Justice Department briefing.
Both Lynch and FBI Director James Comey have said there is no evidence yet to indicate that the assault was directed by a terror group or that the two shooters were part of a larger network of operatives.
Although authorities have been examining whether Malik may have engineered the radicalization of her husband, the federal law enforcement official said Monday that investigators also are pursuing a parallel track: that their mutual interest in radical ideology brought them together.
The official said authorities believe that the pair had harbored radical leanings for an extended period, perhaps indicating that they brought those beliefs to the relationship and built on that foundation after the marriage.
Speaking on Monday at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urged Muslims nationwide to help stop the expansion of radical Islamic terrorism.
“Terrorist organizations overseas have targeted your communities,” he said. “They seek to pull your youth into the pit of violent extremism. Help us to help you stop this.”
He urged the group to “say something to law enforcement, or to one of your community or religious leaders” if they see community members turning toward violence. “When people self-radicalize, someone close to them is almost always in a position to see the signs,” he said. “Help us to help you amplify your message about the true meaning of Islam, as a religion of peace.”
Johnson urged Muslims not to become “bitter” about the USA, which has historically heaped “prejudice, scorn and suspicion” upon outsiders in times of conflict.
He invoked the Cold War-era congressional hearings on Communism and noted that his own grandfather was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee that he was not a member of the Communist Party.
In responding to terrorist threats, Johnson said, “we must not vilify American Muslims. We must not throw a net of suspicion over American Muslims and an entire religion. We must not force American Muslims to run and hide, and retreat to the shadows. This would be counter to our homeland security efforts, and it is un-American.”
On Monday evening, hundreds of county employees gathered for a candlelight prayer vigil the San Bernardino courthouse, not far from the health department where most of the victims worked. An upbeat gospel choir led the vigil, desperate to give the city something to smile about, and many mourners swayed with their rhythm, a candle in one hand and a camera phone in the other.
In the middle of that crowd stood Shenaz Makati, 28, a petite Muslim woman who works at the library. Flickering candlelight revealed glistening tears in her eyes.
“It’s overwhelming,” Makati said. “I’m grieving just like everybody else.”
After the vigil, Makati said she was — once again — struggling to understand how someone had hijacked her religion, twisting it into a weapon of meaningless violence. And now, as county employees returned to work, Makati was unsure if the community would welcome her back.
She was frightened that strangers would see her as an enemy. She worried that some friends might too.
If only they knew, she said.
“When people like this do stuff in the name of my religion, it’s too much, and it’s not fair,” Makati said.
“How do they even get an idea to twist our beliefs so much to use it to kill people? … That is not what I believe. This is not what I pray about five times a day. My faith teaches me to be a stronger American.”
“There is a lesson in our religion that says you are supposed to care about your neighbors — 40 neighbors in front, 40 neighbors behind, 40 neighbors to the right and 40 neighbors to the left. If anybody even knew just that little bit of our religion, they would know (these attacks are) completely absurd.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Greg Toppo, USA TODAY, and Brett Kelman, The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun
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