On Dec. 2, 2015, San Bernardino, California, joined in infamy with other cities as reluctant hosts to mass shootings when married couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik fired automatic weapons on community members at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Although the world knows how many were lost that day, it will never know how many lives were saved because community members, including law enforcement personnel, took concerted action to end the violence.
Call to Action
On that Wednesday morning in December, Sgt. Gary Schuelke of the San Bernardino Police Department (SBPD) and his narcotics investigation unit was on surveillance duty in Los Angeles when they got word of the mass shooting. Shortly before 11 am, while monitoring Schuelke’s surveillance, Daani Svonkin, asset forfeiture analyst for the SBPD, heard the triple-tone alert relaying information of an active shooter in the city.
Earlier that morning, employees of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health including Farook, a county health inspector, met at the Inland Regional Center (IRC) for an event. Regional Centers are nonprofit private corporations that contract with the California Department of Developmental Services to provide services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. Approximately 550 people work at the IRC, which serves the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino.
Farook left the event and returned with Malik. Dressed in combat gear and brandishing assault rifles, the couple fired upon health department employees. In the melee that ensued, a fire alarm was triggered, setting off sprinklers. Workers in nearby buildings sheltered in their offices as the carnage ensued.
Within minutes of the dispatch notifying officers of the IRC incident, law enforcement personnel arrived on the scene to engage the active shooter. Finding the suspects had escaped in a black SUV, according to witnesses, the police cleared the scene and evacuated the injured. During the evacuation, officers discovered an undetonated explosive device.
If the mettle of a community is measured by how it reacts to adversity, the community of San Bernardino, California, will continue standing together when other communities splinter and disperse.
Once Schuelke received information that multiple people were down at the IRC, he broke his team away from the Los Angeles surveillance and started back to the city. When they arrived at the scene there were hundreds of officers at the IRC and evacuations of the buildings were underway and under control. Schuelke directed his team to meet at the command post and decided they would start focusing on locating the suspects.
According to Svonkin and Schuelke, shortly after the officers arrived at the IRC and began triaging victims, a witness came forward and informed Schuelke’s son, also a police officer, that Farook had been at the function but left upset and irritated. Farook became a person of interest for Svonkin, who is an expert in finding people and assets on law enforcement and private databases. She immediately went to work.
While Schuelke’s team was regrouping, the SBPD received a report of a suspicious vehicle matching the description of the vehicle the suspects used to exit the IRC — with a Utah license plate number. Svonkin noticed that the plate number was a rental vehicle and reached out to her rental car agency contact, who faxed a rental car contract back to her that matched Farook’s name. Farook was now a primary suspect in the shooting.
Click here to read the full article from the recent Forum magazine.