A retired police sergeant traveled from Ohio to target his estranged wife in a shooting that ultimately left four people dead, including the gunman, at a popular Orange County bar Wednesday night, authorities said.
John Snowling walked directly up to his wife inside Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon, and, without saying a word, shot her and a friend, according to witnesses.
He continued “randomly” shooting people both inside and outside the bar before being fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire with seven deputies, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a Thursday news conference.
Two men and a woman, the wife’s friend, died at the scene. Five others were injured.
Only one of the victims, John Leehey, 67, of Irvine, has been identified.
Snowling, who had worked with the Ventura Police Department for 28 years before retiring in 2014, was armed with three handguns and a shotgun, Barnes said.
Authorities believe he had traveled to Southern California from Ohio before learning that his wife was at Cook’s Corner.
How the shooting unfolded
Cook’s Corner, a biker bar turned family-friendly hangout, was hosting its weekly spaghetti night when gunfire rang out around 7:05 p.m.
Snowling was initially armed with two handguns when he shot his wife, her friend and other patrons, Barnes said. He eventually made his way to his truck parked outside and retrieved a third handgun and a shotgun.
That’s when he shot a man who confronted him outside, Barnes said. That victim later died.
Deputies were at the scene within two minutes, and Snowling apparently fired multiple rounds at them, striking a patrol car. Deputies returned fire, killing Snowling, Barnes said.
The sheriff described the active shooting response as “dynamic” and praised his deputies and other responding agencies.
“I’m proud. I am proud of the response by our department … there’s a reason why we train the way we do to encounter these incidents,” Barnes said.
Snowling’s wife, Marie Snowling, is recovering at UCI Medical Center after being shot in the jaw, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The rest of the wounded victims were in stable condition, though two were still critical, Providence Mission Hospital Medical Director Tetsuya Takeuchi said.
What happens next?
The investigation into the mass shooting was ongoing Thursday as detectives scoured the scene looking for clues and witnesses.
Public records show Snowling lived in Camarillo, near where he worked, but had recently moved to Ohio, Barnes said. His Ventura County home was searched by authorities Thursday morning.
Marie Snowling lives in Orange County and the two have an adult son, Barnes said.
While authorities are still working on gathering information for a possible motive, Barnes said Snowling was involved in an ongoing dispute with his wife regarding their separation and pending divorce.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, whose office is in charge of investigating the use of force incident, said that the gunman once had a responsibility to protect residents, but instead, shot at strangers.
“Brethren law enforcement officers killed somebody who at one time had earned the honor of being a sworn police officer, a sergeant in the state of California. That person is dead,” Spitzer said. “Instead of helping save lives, John Snowling shot and killed strangers he never met.”
As a frequent patron of the Cook’s Corner, Spitzer says he takes the shooting personally and since the gunman is dead, loved ones and survivors will never get to confront him in court.
“There’s no prosecution, no trial, no opportunity for the surviving victims and loved ones he left behind to confront the shooter,” Spitzer said. “What John Snowling stole from them is one thing that can never be replaced, and that’s the life of their loved ones. And for those who survived, he stole their peace and sense of security.”
Authorities are hoping to speak to more witnesses. Anyone who has additional information is urged to call 714-647-7000.