SAN BERNARDINO, Calif., Police on Wednesday afternoon engaged in a high-speed chase and gun battle with suspects believed to have been involved in an earlier attack on a social services facility in Southern California, officials and news reports said.
Hours after the shootings, authorities spotted three people riding inside a dark-colored SUV not far from the original crime scene and attempted to detain them. Following a high-speed chase, two suspects were shot, NBC News reported, citing law enforcement officials.
Two of the suspects were killed, NBC Los Angeles reported, but a third fugitive appears to be at large in a residential neighborhood, where police brought in a K-9 unit and went from house to house searching for the perpetrator.
Investigators had been looking for a dark-colored SUV that eyewitnesses said was the getaway vehicle for gunmen at the Inland Regional Center — a developmental services complex — immediately after the shootings.
More than a dozen people were shot dead and several others were wounded after the gunmen opened fire inside the facility, located about 60 miles east of the Los Angeles area, at about 11 a.m. local time.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a news conference that as many as three gunmen entered the facility and began shooting people inside. More than a dozen people were killed.
“Upwards of 14 people that are dead and upwards of 14 people who are wounded,” Burguan said, also noting that hundreds of people inside the facility escaped unharmed. “These people came prepared to do what they did as if they were on a mission.”
A police representative later updated the injured toll to 17 — 10 of whom they said are critically wounded.
An FBI representative said at the news conference that investigators are still unsure whether the shootings are terror-related.
One report said the suspect or suspects were heavily armed and wore tactical body armor, although San Bernardino police did not immediately confirm that detail. Burguan noted that the weapons used in the shooting are “long guns,” not handguns.
One source told CNN that the shooting occurred in a conference center at the facility, and that three gunmen armed with AK-47-type weapons were involved in the shootings.
The bomb squad also attended to a suspicious package on the second floor of the building, CNN’s report said. In wasn’t immediately clear if explosives were found.
Authorities have urged residents to stay away from the scene as they attend to wounded and search for suspects. Several schools nearby were placed on lockdown.
SWAT team members are combing the area searching for perpetrators. Multiple agencies — including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the California Highway Patrol — are assisting local authorities in the case, officials said.
Law enforcement officials were also interviewing everyone in the immediate vicinity of the scene and preventing them from leaving the perimeter, in the event a suspect is among them.
The San Bernardino Board of Supervisors has convened an emergency meeting to settle on a course of action to handle the mass shooting, NBC Los Angeles reported.
The Inland Regional Center, a private nonprofit facility, aids persons with developmental disabilities in San Bernardino and nearby Riverside County.
“This is wrong. Why would they target an agency that deals with helping handicapped people?” asked one man who has a relative who is employed at the complex.
“My prayers are with the victims, families and survivors of this horrific attack,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, San Bernardino’s federal representative, said. “My heart aches that the out-of-control gun violence epidemic has come to our community.”
Other politicians also responded to the shootings with shock and sadness — and in some cases, frustration.
“What more evidence do you need that we need to step it up as it relates to gun safety in this state?” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “It is just unacceptable what is going on in this country. And California needs to lead the way.”
President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly advocated stricter gun laws, was briefed on the shooting Wednesday afternoon — as was Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.
“I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now,”Clinton tweeted.
“Enough is enough,” Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley tweeted. “It’s time to stand up to the NRA and enact meaningful gun safety laws.”
“California shooting looks very bad,” GOP candidate Donald Trump tweeted. “Good luck to law enforcement and God bless. This is when our police are so appreciated!”
By Doug G. Ware