San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden was headed to lunch on Wednesday when he got the call about an active shooter situation at the Inland Regional Center.
One of the first responders to the shooting that left 14 people dead and 21 wounded, he described a scene of “unspeakable” carnage as mortally wounded people lay everywhere with the smell of “fresh gunpowder in the air.”
“I know my dispatchers, I know the tone of their voice…I could hear it in my dispatchers’ voices that this was actually happening,” Madden told reporters Thursday evening. “It was something that we all train for, it’s something you never actually prepare for.”
Madden, a 24-year veteran, arrived at the centre with another officer followed shortly by several others and prepared to go into the building.
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As they entered the conference room what they saw was “surreal.”
“It was unspeakable, the carnage that we were seeing,” Madden said. “The pure panic on the faces of the individuals.”
“In active shooting they call it sensory overload, they throw everything at you, to prepare you for dealing with that, what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what you’re smelling – it was all of that and more.”
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Madden described the heartbreaking decision to walk past the victims on the floor to search for the shooters.
“This was tragedy that I’ve never experienced in my career, and I don’t think most officers do,” he recounted. “We resolved that situation quickly, but there’s so much tragedy that’s left behind.”
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There were an estimated 75 at the holiday party, hosted by the county’s Department of Public Health, according to police.
Authorities identified the shooters as Syed R. Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who amassed a several weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition and explosive devices at their nearby residence. Family members said the two were married and had dropped off their six-month-old baby her grandmother’s the morning of the shooting.
On Thursday, police described how they entered the area where the staff party was happening and “sprayed the room with bullets,” firing 65 to 75 rounds during an attack that authorities described as a carefully planned “mission.”
Investigators are still trying to piece together a motive that could include terrorism or a workplace grudge or some combination of the two. On Friday, a U.S. official told the Associated Press Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State using a Facebook alias.