For Maria Bañuelos, for her town, the cruel tragedy of Wednesday’s shooting massacre felt like another 9/11 – “only much more personal, because it was so close to us.”
Eight miles from the home Bañuelos shares with her husband, Cristobal and their 11-year-old son Christian, a husband-and-wife team of assassins mowed down 14 people and wounded 21 at a county building. Maria Bañuelos felt it, because she was planning to be there, and so often was there.
On Thursday night, Bañuelos joined with 2,000 residents who turned out at the downtown San Manuel Stadium. There at the ballyard of the Inland Empire 66ers, a minor-league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, they mourned the dead, prayed for the critically injured and gave thanks for their own well-being amid unimaginable suffering.
The shooting took place at holiday party at Inland Regional Center, where Bañuelos regularly takes her autistic son to see a specialist for behavioral and social therapy. She was planning to stop by to pick up some paperwork the morning of tragedy.
The mere thought of that “makes me so sad” for the victims, she said. “I’ve been walking around in a daze all day, just heartbroken.”
Diana Olander, a county employee, walked into the stadium feeling emotionally crushed yet determined to honor a fellow colleague, health department worker Robert Adams, 40, of Yucaipa. Olander endured an excruciating wait before learning her friend was among the fallen.
“I loved him. His family loved him. His co-workers loved him,” said Olander, a county training division employee who grasped a sign bearing Adams’ name on a night of lit candles, emotive songs and public reflection. “He is so missed. This is not the ending of the story that we were hoping for.”
The story of San Bernardino had been a hard one before the massacre. The city went bankrupt. Its unemployment soared and jobs vanished in the mortgage crisis. Now came true devastation.
“Our city has been devastated by this violent crime perpetrated against us,” the Rev. Joshua Beckley of the Ecclesia Christian Fellowship told the crowd as he asked for salvation “to heal our city, bring back our peace and our joy.”
San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis said the tragedy “has taken lives of many innocent people. It has forever impacted our community.” He also praised police for tracking the suspects, and ultimately taking them down in a ferocious firefight. And he spoke of how the city “united, came together in solidarity” after an horrific event.
So Thursday night, David Rodriguez, came out thinking about his family’s good friend, Julie Swan-Paez, a county health inspector who was was critically injured in the violence. Swan-Paez used to be a teacher at Rodriguez’s son’s school, Holy Rosary Academy. His son, David, 11, is fellow fifth-grader with Swan-Paez’s daughter, Ellie, also 11.
Rodriguez said Swan-Paez’s family told him she was shot once and “fell to the ground played dead” – only to have the gunman double back and “shoot her again.”
“She is a great lady, a great teacher and a great mother,” said Rodriguez, who has been kept up-to-date on her condition. She is still in intensive care at Loma Linda University Medical Center, but Rodriguez said she is getting better.
Still, he finds it hard to fathom, and to endure.
“We cried last night when we found out what happened to her,” Rodriguez said. “This is my hometown, where I was born and raised. It hurts.”