Worldwide attention is focused on the human toll of the San Bernardino massacre: 14 dead, 21 wounded among the deadliest attacks in recent U.S. history.
But it’s clear that the carnage could have been worse: both killers were heavily armed with assault rifles, pistols, seemingly unlimited ammunition, even explosives. They protected themselves with body armor and apparently detailed planning. Then they escaped.
It might seem police were lucky in finding the killers in just four hours and winning the resulting firefight. But recordings of the emergency radio calls suggest the victory was rooted in training, fast action, good decisions, teamwork, and the eerily calm and deliberate help of dispatchers, firefighters and helicopter crews.
“We do not know if we still have an active shooter,” a police lieutenant radioed just minutes after the killing began. “We supposedly have two down inside. We’ll be making entry.”
Tapes also show that Syed Farook was identified as a suspect almost immediately.
The rescue effort and manhunt unfolded with the speed of a thrill ride and the drama of a Hollywood movie. What follows are merely a few examples.
“We’re monitoring PD’s (radio) traffic,” a San Bernardino fire engine captain announced. “Go ahead and put Engine 4 on that call.”
Moments later, he explained his decision to act without specific orders.
“We’re trying to get hold of the chief,” he radioed. “We put ourselves on this call due to the number of people that are down.”
A sheriff’s dispatcher spread the word.
“San Bernardino has an active shooter,” she told deputies throughout the San Bernardino Valley. “They’re asking for all units that are available. 1365 South Waterman. 1365 South Waterman. Several victims down. We don’t have much further” information.
Ugly details soon emerged, broadcast calmly and clearly.
From an officer at the scene, a description of the getaway car and the danger.
“Four-door SUV, full size,” he radioed. “And they were carrying assault rifles, possibly AR-15s.”
The cast of characters mushroomed. Plans were born quickly and precisely. No words or time were wasted. Unmarked police cars shuttled gunshot victims to paramedics. Officials established two medical treatment areas, one north, the other south of the danger area.
But they couldn’t save them all.
“Sam 15,” a sergeant’s radio call sign rang out. “Per fire (department), we have 12 DOA in the south building.”
Then, they caught a break: the name of a suspected killer and possible details of the attack.
Using call sign Ida 9, an officer announced: “A male … left (the building) ‘out of the blue.’ Twenty minutes later, the shooting occurred. The subject’s last (name): Farook. First of Syed. He matches the physical (description) of one of the shooters.”
Another voice, this one excited: “The witnesses that were in the room (say) two males. They were wearing ski-type masks and had (bullet-proof) vests on.”
Worse news followed prompting all officers to evacuate the target building, already empty of living victims.
“Bomb-arson (squad) has seen a device,” an officer radioed. “They are going to (deal with) it via robotic means. They have pulled out of the building, as well.”
Meanwhile, helicopter crews were rushing some of the most seriously wounded to hospitals.
Other helicopter crews helped hunt for the getaway SUV.
“40King1,” a dispatcher called to one of the search copters. “Can you head towards Tennessee and State in Redlands? Look for a black SUV with Utah plate. It was just seen leaving the area.”
“There’s a black SUV at the light at Tippe(canoe) and Brier, right now,” a copter crewman replied. “It’s got a Utah plate.”
Officers swarmed the area. The gunfight was about to begin.
WARNING: The following audio contains violence that may upset some listeners.
A breathless voice: “Shots fired! One suspect down in the street. Two in the vehicle.”
A dispatcher her voice totally composed asked the crucial question: “Location, please.”
Breathless voice: “San Bernardino and, uh, Shedden (Drive), I think it is.”
“San Bernardino and Shedden,” she confirmed.
Again, the word went out to surrounding police agencies. Help needed. NOW!
A sheriff’s sergeant immediately recognized the location and ordered his deputies toward the sound of the guns.
“In the south (part of the) city,” 14 Sam radioed his dispatchers. “Is anybody in that area? Have them respond Code 3 (lights and sirens) 999,” shorthand for top priority: Officers need IMMEDIATE assistance.
Then, excited voices from the firefight.
“We need a BearCat,” one officer announced, asking for an armored vehicle.
“We need some support over here,” came another voice. “We’ve got multiple, multiple shots fired!”
Was the helicopter crew listening, and racing to help?
“40King,” the pilot replied with his call sign. “I am. I’m copying traffic. My partner is transitioned in the back seat with an M-4 rifle. But I’m going to be flying the helicopter and working the radios all at the same time. Go with the last information.”
The information and the situation was scary.
“We’re at San Bernardino and Shedden. San Bernardino and Shedden,” radioed Nora 2. “We can see one guy down. There’s one guy in the back of the car. And we need that BearCat … Have the BearCat come to us.”
round the world, everyone knows the rest. The police won. The suspects died within hours, not days or months, of the massacre.
Experts will pick apart the events of that day.
But the recordings suggest many people did their best. Quickly. Decisevely. Effectively.
By RICHARD BROOKS / STAFF WRITER