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New Report Offers Harrowing Account Of 2015 San Bernardino Attack

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SWAT officers search for suspects after the shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Both suspects were killed in a shootout with police. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Nine months ago, news of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California made national headlines. The details of how 14 died and another 24 were wounded were understandably harrowing. Two heavily armed shooters opened fire on a group of about 80 San Bernardino County Department of Public Health employees on a short break from a training exercise, at the Inland Regional Center, a county services building.

Released earlier this week, a report compiled by the Department of Justice, the Police Foundation and local law enforcement narrativizes and closely examines what law enforcement officers and other first responders experienced first hand on December 2, 2015. The report, accessible in PDF format here, includes a wide range of details that have not been previously made public, and was first reported on by the New York Times.

Aside from offering a succinct, well-written play-by-play of what actually happened that December morning, the report includes tactical and policy recommendations. For example, ambulances had a challenging time getting close enough to the scene of the shooting because of other, haphazardly parked emergency vehicles blocking access. At the same time, the report contextualizes the tactical readiness and expediency with which first responders were able to do their job. All victims were transported to an emergency room within 57 minutes of the first 9-1-1 call, falling within the critical 'golden-hour' standard of emergency medicine.

Also included are details of three county workers who attempted to stop the shooting in the first minutes, before law enforcement arrived, by rushing at the assailants and attempting to force them to stop. All three were shot, though the report omits whether or not these people were killed or wounded.

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The shooting itself took less than three minutes. During that time, the shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, reportedly discharged approximately 100 rounds of ammunition. Farook and Malik had already departed before the first police arrived on scene. Not knowing whether or not the shooters were still in the building or not, first responders were tasked with clearing the building before letting paramedics tend to the wounded. From the report, quoting a first responder:

It was the worst thing imaginable — 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,” the patrol officer said. “That was the hardest part, stepping over them.

The report also includes tidbits from first responders that offers some, albeit very limited, insight into what it's like to be the first one on a scene:

It was complete and total chaos when I got there... There were already a lot of emergency vehicles there. Initially, you are just trying to get a handle on what is going on because the (police) radio is overwhelmed.

And from a patrol officer:

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I felt so naked, because we didn't have cover and concealment approaching the building... You know you are outgunned, it is going to be hard to beat an AR[-15 assault rifle] with a handgun, so I knew we needed good shot placement.

The report details how, when the shooting first started, several of those at the Inland Regional Center were unsure of whether or not what they were witnessing was part of an elaborate drill. One county employee wondered whether this was "the most glorified training I had ever seen." They went on to explain how "probably on the second or third clip, it finally clicked that this wasn't an exercise."

Law enforcement tracked down Farook and Malik just hours after the shooting, relying on a tip that they had escaped in a black SUV with Utah license plates. Fast police work determined that the Farook had rented an SUV with Utah plates in the week before the shooting, and it wasn't long before officers found the vehicle in nearby Redlands. What followed was a three-minute long shootout. Farook and Malik fired at least 81 rounds at police, met with a volley of at least 440 rounds returned by 24 officers. A total 175 law enforcement officers were on the scene by the time the shootout ended.

LAist has followed the San Bernardino story and its developments closely. You can read more about by clicking here. As for San Bernardino, the city has had a violent year following last December's attack. As we reported on Friday, 2016 may turn out to be the city's deadliest year since 1996, with a homicide rate higher than that of Chicago. It's worth noting that San Bernardino is the second most impoverished large American city, second only to Detroit, Michigan.