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14 killed in California shooting, two suspects dead


california-shootingA heavily armed man and woman in their 20s died in a shootout with police after killing 14 people at a Christmas party in California in America’s worst mass shooting in three years, authorities said.

Police identified the pair as Syed Farook, a 28-year-old US citizen who worked for the local county, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, whose nationality was unknown. They said the suspects were either married or engaged.

Jarrod Burguan, San Bernardino’s police chief, confirmed that both were dead, and that police no longer believed a third suspect mentioned earlier was at large.

The shooters targeted a year-end party taking place at a social services center in San Bernardino, about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, killing 14 people and wounding 17 more.

“We don’t have the motive at this point,” the police chief said. “We have not ruled out terrorism.”

The massacre drew an angry response from President Barack Obama, who once again urged Congress to pass tougher gun control measures to stem America’s epidemic of gun violence.

According to Burguan, Farook was an environmental inspector who had worked for the county health department for five years.

He and Malik were dressed in military-style gear and carried assault weapons as they burst into the auditorium where the bloodbath took place. The hall was let out for the holiday party by the Inland Regional Center for the disabled.

Burguan said Farook had attended the Christmas party organized by the health department and left after an apparent dispute, only to return a short time later with Malik, armed with assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns.

“Based upon how they were equipped, there had to be some degree of planning that went into this,” he said. “I don’t think they just ran home and put on these tactical clothes, grabbed guns and came back on a spur of the moment thing.”

– ‘Twisted mindset’ –
He said the attackers left explosive devices behind and authorities were only able to access the scene of the crime several hours after the shooting.

There was no immediate information on the identity of the victims.

FBI agents in the early evening raided an apartment in the nearby town of Redlands, where the two suspects were seen before the police chase that ended in a shootout a few miles from the Inland Center.

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced the killings. Farook’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, said he had no clue what prompted the carnage.

“I am in shock that something like this could happen,” a visibly shaken Khan told a press conference organized by CAIR.

The Los Angeles Times quoted some of Farook’s co-workers as saying he had previously traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with a new wife. The couple had a six-month-old daughter and appeared to be “living the American dream,” Patrick Baccari, a fellow inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook, told the paper.

Hussam Ayloush, CAIR’s executive director in Los Angeles, said: “The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence.”

– Deadliest since Sandy Hook –
It was the country’s deadliest shooting since December 14, 2012, when a young man killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Witnesses at the California scene recounted barricading themselves in offices and hiding as the sound of gunfire erupted.

Mark Stutte said his daughter was attending the party organized by the county’s public health department and called him terrified while hiding in a restroom as gunshots rang out in the background.

“It was really, really super scary,” he told local TV, as he wept. “I’m far away. I couldn’t do anything for her.”

Lavinia Johnson, the center’s executive director, said she and her staff hid in another building on the property for about two hours until they were evacuated by police.

The local San Bernardino newspaper The Sun identified one of the victims as Jennifer Stevens who underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the abdomen and was expected to recover.

It said Stevens, 22, had texted her mother right after the shooting saying: “Mom, I’m at work, I’ve been shot.”

– ‘Pattern of mass shootings’ –
Obama, who just last week made a plea for action on gun control after three people were killed at a family planning center in Colorado, voiced his anger once more.

“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” he told CBS News.

“There are some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”

Wednesday’s shooting, which came less than a week after a gunman killed three people at a family planning center in Colorado, was certain to further stoke the bitter debate about gun control in the United States.

In October, a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon before turning the gun on himself.

According to the site Mass Shooting Tracker, the latest attack brings to 352 the number of mass shootings in the United States so far this year. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot in one incident.

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