A dispute at a holiday gathering may have sparked a mass shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and 17 others wounded on Wednesday morning, federal law enforcement officials said.
As many as three assailants, who carried long guns and wore masks, opened fire on a gathering of San Bernardino county employees around 11 a.m., sources and a witness told the Los Angeles Times.
A senior federal official who is monitoring the case said investigators believe one of the shooters left the party after getting into an argument and returned with one or two armed companions.
The shooting took place in a large conference room on the grounds of the Inland Regional Center, which serves people with developmental disabilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Authorities confirmed that a suspect had been shot in connection with the car chase. It remained unclear if the pursuit was linked to the attack. A police officer was also shot and sustained non-life threatening injuries during a firefight that followed the pursuit.
TV footage showed dozens of heavily armed police officers approaching the SUV, and officers in tactical gear could be seen stalking through a San Bernardino neighborhood.
A body could be seen lying in the street near the vehicle. Blood was pooling nearby and a weapon was lying just feet away.
“A suspect is down,” county sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Vicki Cervantes said at an afternoon news conference.
She added that another suspect was “possibly a suspect at large in the area.”
Cervantes would not say if the suspsect had died.
Marybeth Feild, the center’s board president and CEO, said the San Bernardino County Public Health Department rented the conference room where the shooting took place, and they were hosting a banquet.
The room, which holds as many as 200 people, was decorated for a holiday party,she said.
The motive for the attack remains unclear.
“Is this a terrorist incident? We do not know,” said David Bowdich, the assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
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.
The shooting rippled across San Bernardino. All county schools, as well as city government buildings and courthouses, were on lock down as police continued to search for the assailants. School officials, however, stressed that students had not been in danger and were dismissed on the regular schedule.
During a news briefing, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said information about the party was “preliminary” and declined to comment on a motive for the shooting.
“We have no information at this point to indicate that this is terrorist related, in the traditional sense that people may be thinking,” Burguan said. “Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here.”