People move to California to escape the harsh winters. But last week, we learned that living here doesn’t mean you escape the harsh reality of international terrorism.
In Southern California, Wednesday was just like any other day – until it wasn’t. At about 11:30 a.m., I was having lunch about a mile from my children’s school when I heard about the massacre in San Bernardino, about an hour away.
In one of the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history, 14 people were killed and 21 injured after gunmen opened fire during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center.
The building provides office space to an organization staffed by social workers that helps individuals with developmental disabilities. The conference room, where the attack was centered, had been rented by the county health department.
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A video taken just moments before the shooting shows people in a joyous mood, some of them in wheelchairs. It was an unlikely place for someone to make a political statement – unless the plan was to choose a “soft target” to generate the greatest amount of public outrage.
Mission accomplished. At the moment, outrage is as abundant in California as sunshine. What we’re missing are answers in a terrorist attack that breaks all the rules.
Within a couple of hours of the shooting, while the situation was still fluid, a cop friend messaged me:
“14 dead. Who were these expletives?”
The expletives were later identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27. Farook, a U.S.-born citizen, traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he met Malik, and brought her to the United States. The Muslim couple has a 6-month-old infant for whom they were careful to make baby-sitting arrangements before they went on their errand of death.
My friend texted, “If it was ISIS, life as we know it in California is over.”
“Correction,” I messaged back. “In America.”
All afternoon, one exasperated terrorism expert after another threw up his arms and admitted he was at a loss to understand this attack.
The oddities include: the fact the shooters were a man and a woman; the fact that there were two assailants, when the vast majority of mass shootings are carried out by solo shooters; and most curious of all, the fact that they fled the carnage, while many terrorists commit suicide for the cause.
Reports that Farook had gone to the party, left, and then returned led some – including the White House – to prematurely suggest this was workplace violence; but the fact that he returned with Malik, and they were both dressed in tactical-style gear and wielded semiautomatic weapons, makes clear this was planned in advance. But would this murderous couple really have gone through all this trouble, done all this planning and accumulated all this firepower just to decimate a Christmas party?
This is another one of those cases where, if you think you have all the answers, you don’t understand the questions.
That didn’t stop the liberal group Democracy for America from sending out a few hours after the shooting – while police were still in pursuit of the suspects and the bodies of the victims had just arrived at the county coroner’s office – a ghoulish email. In it, Executive Director Charles Chamberlain alleged that “Republicans continue to side with the NRA and enable terrorists to kill innocent people” and thanked the public for “fighting back against those who enable terrorists” by making a donation.
Stay classy, Charles. Remember: As long you think you’re doing good deeds, you don’t have to be a good person.
But as the story was unfolding, I was focused on only three details: that the assailants were still at large; that they might be headed to attack another soft target; and that they might have gotten onto Interstate 15.
If they headed north, they’d be going toward Las Vegas. But if they headed south, they’d pass within a mile of my kids’ school.
I left the restaurant, got into my car, and turned on the radio. Then I hustled over to the school, and got into the carpool lane. I was supposed to pick them up anyway. So what if I was an hour early, and there were no other parents around? I could wait, and I did. When the bell rang and my kids finally got in the car, I greeted them and turned off the radio.
And then, and only then, I exhaled.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at is firstname.lastname@example.org.