Coroner releases San Bernardino autopsies: ‘The room was in disarray’
LOS ANGELES — The scene inside the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino hours after the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11 still had the hallmarks of the holiday festivities that brought the victims together and the bloodshed that followed.
There was the Christmas tree in the corner. The holiday decorations that covered more than a dozen tables. But there were also the bodies and bullet holes. Ceiling tiles had been knocked down, bullets had pierced the walls, carpet and chairs. A Christmas stocking lay over one of the victim’s bodies.
“The room was in disarray,” and almost all the victims had gunshot wounds to the back, according to autopsy reports released Friday for all 14 victims of the Dec. 2 attack.
Each victim died from multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said, but the locations of their bodies varied. Two victims died across the street at a golf course, where a makeshift triage center had been hastily set up. Three died just outside the conference room. The rest of the victims were scattered across the 3,400-square-foot conference hall, including several by the tree, according to the reports.
The victims were identified as Robert Adams, 40, Isaam Amanios, 60, Bennetta Betbadal, 46, Harry Bowman, 46, Sierra Clayborn, 27, Juan Espinoza, 50, Aurora Godoy, 26, Shannon Johnson, 45, Larry Daniel Kaufman, 42, Damian Meins, 58, Tin Nguyen, 31, Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Yvette Velasco, 27, and Michael Raymond Wetzel, 37.
A portion of each report was redacted, the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Department noted, but details on how the victims were killed were not.
“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of our valued colleagues on that day and seek to strike a balance between public transparency and sensitive private information that could further traumatize the victims’ families,” county spokesman David Wert said.
Hal Houser, a survivor of the attack, said he worries that releasing the reports will only “exacerbate the trauma.”
“I guess there is no kind way to release this info, but it does seem somewhat invasive,” Houser said.
Syed Rizawan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, burst into the center about 11 a.m. and began shooting. Twenty-two other people were injured.
The San Bernardino County Public Health Department had rented a large conference room for its annual holiday potluck and training session on the campus, which serves people with developmental disabilities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Farook was a U.S. citizen, born in Illinois, and a five-year employee of the government agency holding the holiday banquet. He worked as a health inspector, according to public records. Farook and his wife had been married for two years and had a 6-month-old daughter. After a car chase, both were killed in a gun battle with police.
Well-liked by his co-workers, Farook had taught them how to use new computer programs and had won TGI Friday gift cards for his good performance. He was present when the banquet began but disappeared before a staff photo was taken.
“Where’s Syed?” someone asked. Farook’s jacket still hung from the back of his seat.
The employees had been on a break from their training, grabbing snacks and snapping photos by the Christmas tree where four bodies were later found. As a barrage of gunfire sounded outside moments later, everyone hit the floor.
Dressed in tactical clothing and black masks, Farook and Malik had burst into the back of the conference room and opened fire with .223 semi-automatic rifles. They were “self-radicalized,” according to federal investigators. Authorities have deemed the attack an act of terrorism.
Houser, who escaped the violence when he ran out of the conference room, said knowing the details of his co-workers’ deaths doesn’t help him understand the violence any better. He already knew that some died instantly and other did not — it doesn’t help ease the pain.
“I still miss my friends and co-workers,” he said.
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