The first law-enforcement officer to arrive at the scene of Wednesday morning’s mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino was a 24-year veteran of that city's Police Department, but perhaps nothing could have fully prepared him for the “surreal” scene that he and other responders discovered.
Victims were moaning, fire sprinklers had been activated and the smell of gunpowder permeated the air, police Lt. Michael Madden said at a news conference Thursday evening, describing the immediate aftermath of a shooting spree that left 14 people dead and 21 others injured.
“We had to bring some kind of calm to the chaos that was going on,” he said.
Madden was on his way to lunch shortly before 11 a.m. when he heard the initial radio calls about the incident, which occurred less than a mile away from his location, police Chief Jarrod Burguan said.
According to the lieutenant, who oversees the department’s dispatch and records divisions, the tone of those reports spoke volumes.
“I could hear it in our dispatchers’ voice … that this was a real event,” he said. “We have an active shooter going on in our city.”
After pulling into the campus, Madden said, his immediate goal was to assemble an an entry team — a protocol that he and his colleagues began training for after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Three other officers arrived shortly after Madden, he said, and the four of them entered one of the Inland Regional Center’s buildings to find multiple deceased victims.
“The situation was surreal,” Madden said, recalling what he witnessed inside a conference room. He added: “It was unspeakable, the carnage that we were seeing, the number of people who were injured and unfortunately already dead.”
The survivors’ faces displayed “pure panic,” according to the lieutenant.
The officers evacuated about 50 people who rushed past them and out of the location. Madden said he and his colleagues then moved further into the building, making their way past several victims.
“That was a difficult choice to have to make as well … but our goal at the time had to be trying to locate the shooters and deal with them,” Madden said, “before we could get further assistance in for those in need of medical attention.”
As more officers came to the campus, Madden, a San Bernardino native and member of the department’s command staff, said he was able to assume a supervisory role at the scene.
The two shooters, later identified by authorities as husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, fled the scene. They were killed later that day about two miles from the state-run facility, in a shootout with 23 law-enforcement officers from seven agencies, police said.