SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The first officer on the scene of a deadly shooting at a holiday party Wednesday in San Bernardino, California described seeing unspeakable carnage and “pure panic” on the faces of the injured.
“It was something that, although we train for it, it’s something that you’re never actually prepared for,” San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden said at a news conference Thursday night.
In all, 14 people were killed in Wednesday’s massacre. Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Thursday that 12 of them, and 18 of the 21 people injured, were San Bernardino County employees.
Madden, a 24-year veteran of the San Bernardino Police Department, was less than a mile away from the Inland Regional Center when he received a call via dispatch of an active shooter incident.
“I realized as I was getting closer that I was one of the very first units sent there,” said Madden, who arrived almost simultaneously to the scene with another unit and called for additional officers.
“My goal was to assemble an entry team and enter into the building to engage the active shooter,” he said. “This mindset and this type of training became indoctrinated in us after the Columbine shooting.”
Madden says it took about two minutes from that point to have a team assembled. Once inside the conference room, he said “the situation was surreal.”
“It was unspeakable, the carnage that we were seeing,” he said. “The number of people that were injured and unfortunately already dead.”
Madden said the initial 50 people he encountered did not want to come to officers and were fearful.
“We had to tell them several times, ‘Come to us. Come to us.’ And ultimately they did. Once that first person took the motion forward, it opened the floodgates,” he recalled. He also described the chaotic scene as “loud.”
“The fire alarms were going off. There were people who were obviously injured and obviously in great amounts of pain and that was evident in the moans and wails that we were hearing in the room,” he said. “It was very loud in the room and we also had fire sprinklers going off.”
Wednesday’s shooting was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, three years ago that left 26 children and adults dead.
The alleged shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, were both killed in a shootout with police hours after the attack.
Farook worked for the county Department of Health, which was holding the holiday party. According to police, he left the party early after a possible dispute, and returned with Malik to open fire.
“I did the job I was supposed to do,” Madden said. “People don’t call the police because they are having a great day — they call because there is tragedy going on. And this was tragedy that I have never experienced in my career.”