SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (Reuters) – Police searched on Wednesday for up to three suspects in the shooting of as many as 20 people, some of them fatally, at a social services agency for the developmentally disabled in the Southern California city of San Bernardino, authorities said.
San Bernardino Police Lieutenant Richard Lawhead told a local NBC television network affiliate there were multiple fatalities, and a reporter for that channel said he saw the bodies of three victims following the shooting rampage.
MSNBC also reported that law enforcement authorities had confirmed the three deaths.
The San Bernardino Fire Department said in a Twitter post that it was responding to reports of 20 victims. San Bernardino is some 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.
A police spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the suspects were heavily armed and possibly wearing body armour, and CBS reported that a bomb squad was on the scene, trying to defuse what was believed to be an explosive device.
President Barack Obama was briefed and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Twitter, “I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now.”
Agents for the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were dispatched to the scene to assist local law enforcement in the investigation, representatives for the two agencies said.
The shooting took place at the Inland Regional Center, one of 21 facilities set up by the state and run under contract by non-profit organizations to serve people with developmental disabilities, said Nancy Lungren, spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services.
Television images on CNN showed people being evacuated from the building, their arms raised, as triage stations were set up outside. Police and SWAT teams were seen surrounding the building.
HOSPITAL READIES FOR PATIENTS
Loma Linda University Medical Center, on a recorded hotline, said it had received four adult patients and was expecting three more.
The regional centres like the one attacked in San Bernardino administer, authorise and pay for assistance to people with disabilities such as autism and mental retardation.
On an average day, doctors at the regional centres would be evaluating toddlers whose parents have concerns and case workers would be meeting with developmentally disabled adults. Lungren said that the San Bernardino facility is one of the state’s largest and busiest.
The shooting in California comes less than a week after a gunman killed three people and wounded nine in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. In October, a gunman killed nine people at a college in Oregon and in June a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.
The Inland Regional Center has been the focus of recent complaints that its clients were not receiving all services requested or that some services were cut back without proper notice, said attorney Terri Keville of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP.
In a settlement last year, the agency agreed to implement new procedures to make sure clients were properly informed of their rights and received the services to which they were entitled.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)