Police: Up to 14 dead in shooting at California social services center

A first responder attends to a person outside a Southern California social services center in San Bernardino, where authorities said multiple people were shot Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
A first responder attends to a person outside a Southern California social services center in San Bernardino, where authorities said multiple people were shot Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. AP

The shooter or shooters who attacked a San Bernardino office building Wednesday morning killed at least 14 people, police said. They may have opened fire on a holiday party being held by county employees, federal law enforcement sources and a witness told the Los Angeles Times.

The shooting, which also left up to 20 people injured, happened on the grounds of the Inland Regional Center, which serves people with developmental disabilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

At a news conference, officials said they don’t know a motive for the attack and were not sure if it was an act of terrorism.

Keith Nelson, the vice president of the center’s board of trustees, said a group who he believed to be “county workers” unrelated to the center were hosting a holiday party when the gunfire broke out.

A person who was inside the building also told the Times that the shooting may have happened during a holiday party, but declined to be identified or comment further.

The shooting took place in a building that is open to the public, Nelson said.

Federal law enforcement sources, who requested anonymity because the investigation is active and ongoing, told the Times that the group holding the party, rather than the center, may have been targeted.

Investigators are now searching for a black sport utility vehicle that may have fled from the Waterman Avenue office building. As many as three suspected shooters fled the building after gunfire erupted, according to the sources. It is unclear whether the people inside the vehicle are witnesses or suspected assailants.

Police also used a robot to detonate a “device” found inside the building, according to the sources, who added that investigators were assembling a battering ram to gain access to the office complex.

President Barack Obama has been briefed on the shooting, and asked to be updated as the situation develops.

The San Bernardino Fire Department said the shooting took place on Waterman Avenue, near Orange Show Road. San Bernardino is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Sgt. Vicki Cervantes, a San Bernardino police spokeswoman, told reporters at the scene that up to three shooters were believed to be involved in the attack inside the Inland Regional Center.

Officers have not secured the building and are going door to door.

The suspects, she said, are heavily armed and were possibly wearing body armor.

“It’s a very active scene,” Cervantes said. “It’s very fluid.”

Television news footage showed police officers and firefighters at the scene as well as people being escorted out of the area.

Officials said they received a call about a shooting about 11 a.m. PST.

One man whose wife works in the building told KABC-TV that at least one gunman walked into the center and opened fire. She was able to lock herself in her office.

“They saw bodies on the floor,” he said.

The shooting rippled across San Bernardino.

Loma Linda University Medical Center, the closest hospital to the shooting scene, is treating seven patients who were wounded in the shooting, said Briana Pastorino, a hospital spokeswoman.

Tom Brown said he and countless other employees and customers at the nearby San Bernardino Golf Club were on lockdown Wednesday.

“We’re not allowing anyone on the golf course. We got a big helicopter sitting in the middle of the No. 1 fairway,” Brown told the Times. “We’re several hundred yards away from the area. We can see fire and SWAT from here, but we’re not allowed to go any farther.”

Brown said his co-worker said she heard gunshots nearby.

Meanwhile, the bus company that provides transportation for San Bernardino City Unified School District is offering its buses to transport victims and witnesses of the shooting, said district spokeswoman Linda Berdere.

Fred Henning was holed up inside the paralegal’s office where he works with his wife, about a block from the scene of the shooting. Henning said they were standing outside as helicopters swooped overhead, but fled back into the building as police began to flood the area.

“We just came inside because it could be stray bullets, who knows?” Henning said. “We did mill around outside for a while, but we decided the better plan was to stay in. We’re stranded in here. … We’re in an office building.”

The block where the shooting took place is home to a number of businesses, Henning said, including a three-building complex that houses his office and roughly 140 others. The street has been shut down.

“I see squad cars like you won’t believe,” Henning said.

Lynn Spicer, an employee at West Tech/Webcop Interactive Systems, which is inside a nearby office building, said police are not allowing anyone to leave the area.

“I just heard sirens all day, and I went out and I saw nothing but massive cops were out,” Spicer said. “Our boss wants us to go home, but they won’t let us leave.”

Spicer said more than 100 people were brought over from the Inland Regional building and gathered in her office complex’s parking lot.

“It’s shocking that it’s right across the way,” Spicer said. “It’s very scary.”

With nearly 670 employees, the Inland Regional Center serves those with developmental disabilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to the center’s Facebook page.

The center has provided services to more than 30,200 people with developmental disabilities and their families for at least 40 years.

The nonprofit organization serves children, adults and seniors.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune