As the holiday gathering got underway Wednesday morning, Syed Rizwan Farook joined dozens of his colleagues from San Bernardino County’s public health department. Farook, an inspector, seemed quiet during the early hours of the event, then vanished just as a group photo was about to be taken.
Shortly afterward, gunfire erupted at the Inland Regional Center where the employees filled a conference room. By the end of the day, police had identified Farook, 28, as a suspect in the massacre and said he was one of two people shot to death in a gun battle with officers. The other was 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik, who a family member said was Farook’s wife.
Police officials said Farook had worked for the county for five years. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said that there were reports of a dispute before Farook left the party.
Co-workers told The Times they were shocked to hear Farook’s name linked to the shooting. Two who were in the restroom when the bullets began to fly said he was quiet and polite, with no obvious grudges.
They said Farook recently traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with a new wife he had met online. The couple had a baby and appeared to be “living the American dream,” said Patrick Baccari, a fellow health inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook.
Baccari and Christian Nwadike said Farook, who worked with them for several years, rarely started a conversation. But the tall, thin young man with a full beard was well liked and spent much of his time out in the field.
They and other colleagues said Farook was a devout Muslim, but rarely discussed religion at work.
“He never struck me as a fanatic, he never struck me as suspicious,” said Griselda Reisinger, who worked with Farook before leaving the agency in May.
Reisinger said she heard that the office recently threw a baby shower for Farook and that he had taken paternity leave.
Later Wednesday night, Farhan Khan, a brother-in-law of Farook, said he knew the suspect for much of his life and last saw him a week ago.
“I cannot express how sad I am,” he said at an Islamic Center in Anaheim. “I have no idea why he would do that…. I am in shock that something like this would happen…. My condolences to the people who lost their life.”
Baccari said he was about to dry his hands in the restroom when bullets ripped into the towel dispenser, sending shrapnel into his face and blood spilling into his eyes. The rounds pocked the walls as he dived for cover onto the floor. He and another man pushed the door closed with their legs and waited for police.
Later, Baccari remembered his co-worker disappearing before the photo session.
“Where’s Syed?” he recalled someone asking.