Even mass murderers apparently have child-minding logistics to consider.
I do not mean to sound glib about the horrifying events that unfolded in San Bernardino on Wednesday afternoon, 14 slain, 21 wounded. Except that, in the United States especially, this is getting beyond ridiculous, beyond alarming, beyond comprehension.
Could have been “workplace violence.”
Could have been Islamist international terrorism.
Could have been a motivation hybrid.
Could have been a nihilist folie a deux between a fanatical couple — American-born husband, Pakistani-born wife brought to the country on a fiancée visa — who may have found each other online.
Could have been one radicalized misanthrope grooming the other, or a pair of like-minded miscreants falling into the embrace of martyrdom.
Five days after a whack-job fundamentalist loner shot up a Colorado women’s health clinic that performs abortions — killing three, wounding nine — America finds itself in mourning and enraged again. Again and again and again.
The San Bernardino shooting, according to one crowd-sourced mass shooting tracker site cited yesterday by The Washington Post, was at least the third since Friday’s attack in Colorado Springs and the 355th mass shooting in the US this year, with mass shooting defined as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire.
What qualifies as a mass shooting, however, depends on who’s counting. The FBI statistics refer to one individual “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” The agency totaled 160 such incidents from 2000 to 2013, in which 557 were wounded and 486 killed. And trending upwards — 115 “active-shooter’’ incidents in the last seven years of the data compiled, compared with 45 in the first seven years.
In its initial hours, Wednesday’s assault on the Inland Regional Centre — a non-profit facility that provides resources and programs for developmentally disabled children and adults — had the apparent imprint of workplace grievance gone “postal,” another modern-age aphorism. The male shooter was a county employee in attendance at the centre’s Christmas luncheon, leaving and returning dressed in black tactical gear shortly afterwards. At least one early eyewitness claimed the man departed after some kind of verbal confrontation with another employee.
In his first comments about the tragedy, President Barack Obama — quite rightly — referenced the scourge of Americans and their precious guns. According to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report that was published one month before the Sandy Hook school shooting, there were an estimated 310 million guns in circulation (excluding those brought in illegally) in the U.S. as of 2009 — surpassing the total U.S. population at that time.
Easy access to firearms is usually the crux of the thing, though California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
The San Bernardino shooter-couple brought four guns with them: two .223 caliber long guns and two semi-automatics. All had been legally purchased, the FBI has revealed, though two by someone other than the suspects — Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his spouse, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik. Both were killed following a police chase of their quickly identified SUV (rented days earlier), not far from the townhouse where they’d lived, the shootout broadcast live by TV news helicopters circling overhead.
“Each time this happens, I’m going to bring this up … each time it happens I’m going to say we need to change our laws,’’ Obama had vowed the last time he was required to stand in front of the nation and speak about a mass shooting episode.
But as more details surfaced Thursday, it became increasingly clear that this incident was veering off into another direction, involving the word — terrorism — that Obama is so loath to utter.
Even if a personal resentment, a private agenda, sparked the assault, the backdrop to this couple provides a grim picture of apparent radicalized ideology biding its time.
Three pipe bombs taped together were left at the Inland Centre, attached to a remote detonation device (a toy car, actually) that either failed to go off when triggered, or the couple never got around to it; a dozen pipe bombs were recovered from their house, along with “hundreds of tools’’ that could be used to construct explosive devices. Also, “a bomb-making lab’’; 1400 .223 rounds and 200 9mm rounds, found in their vehicle; 76 rounds fired at pursuing law enforcement.
“Clearly, they were equipped and they could have continued to do another attack,” Police Chief Jarrod Burguan told reporters at a Thursday morning media briefing. “We intercepted them, obviously.’’
Toy cars for remote detonation were proposed in a recent article published by Inspiration, the Al Qaeda online magazine that also purportedly inspired the Boston Marathon bombers.
So the other dots are being hastily connected, strongly suggestive of planning and premeditation.
“If you look at the amount of obvious pre-planning, the weapons … there was obviously a mission here,” said David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI Los Angeles office. “We don’t know why. That is the big question for us: What is the motive and inspiration for this attack?”
Farook had allegedly been in touch with terrorism suspects already under investigation by the FBI. He’d travelled to Saudi Arabia for nearly a month this past spring.
Burguan put it thusly: “Nobody just gets upset at a party, goes home and puts together that elaborate a plan or scheme and comes back. So there was some planning that went into this.’’
Workplace violence typically arises from a grievance against a co-worker, with the culprit striving for notoriety against a larger canvas of bloodshed, something grander than the wedge motive of a personal grudge.
Farook apparently had no history of toxic relations with colleagues — as was the case, for example, of Vester Lee Flanagan, who killed two TV station co-workers in Virginia four months ago, as the reporter and her cameraman were shooting a live interview.
Yet there have been grotesque incidents in recent years where workplace violence and political terrorism have conflated.
Notably in Oklahoma, last September, a convert to Islam walked into the food processing plant where he’d lost his job and beheaded one of the first people he encountered, using a kitchen knife to decapitate the woman.
In Lyon, this past June, an extremist truck driver with links to ISIS (it was subsequently learned), rammed his vehicle into a U.S.-owned chemical factory, then decapitated the boss he’d just strangled, took gruesome selfies with the severed head and sent them to a French jihadi childhood friend. That person put the photos into wide circulation, claiming he’d first obtained permission from ISIS to do so.
Those ghastly events seemed an ultra-weird mutation of the terrorism do-it-yourself manual and singularly repulsive: the “mixed motive’’ matrix.
And now, it would appear, a further heretofore unimaginable scenario: the involvement of a woman — not in itself unprecedented, of course — who left her 6-month-old baby with Nana before embarking on an operation that had martyrdom written all over it.
Where to next? How much more debauched the tactics and merciless the targeting of innocents?
“At this stage, we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred,” Obama said on Thursday. “We do know that the two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their home. But we don’t know why they did it. We don’t know at this point the extent of their plans. We don’t know their motivations.
“It is possible that this was terrorist-related, but we don’t know. It’s also possible that this was workplace-related. But what I can assure the American people is that we’re going to get to the bottom of this. And that we’re going to be vigilant, as we always are, in getting the facts before we issue any decisive judgments in terms of how this occurred.’’
At least they didn’t strap on the baby along with their guns, their bombs and their savagery.