In San Bernardino and beyond, jitters and a heightened sense of caution
Lisa Carreno positioned herself on a street corner Saturday so she had wide-angle views of the San Bernardino Family YMCA Children’s Christmas Parade.
The 41-year-old mother stood still, scanning the hundreds of people in attendance.
“I am on high alert: My daughter is a cadet who will be leading this parade,” Carreno said. “I’m keeping track of people wearing backpacks or behaving suspiciously in any way whatsoever.”
Her husband, Anthony, kept an eye on people’s hands. On the street, the couple’s 14-year-old daughter marched with more than a dozen classmates from Indian Springs High School, which had been locked down after the shooting Wednesday morning at the Inland Regional Center.
The events in San Bernardino have given rise to a new mix of jitters, not just here but across the nation. The FBI is investigating the killings as an act of terror and looking for connections to terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29 had blended into the small-town atmosphere of Redlands without drawing the attention of law enforcement. That has residents wondering who else might be plotting an attack.
Up to now, alienated young men and disgruntled workers have been the people who shot up offices and school campuses. Their carnage was no less terrible, but the threat ended when the assailants were killed or captured.
International terrorists were supposed to go for big targets, like Paris and Madrid, the Boston Marathon, the London Tube, the World Trade Center. Not holiday potlucks in San Bernardino.
In the crowd Saturday, a new refrain joined the normal hometown greetings and partings of the holiday season: “You be safe today.”
Dyesha McCrumb felt a rush of relief when police arrived to lead the parade on foot and motorcycles.
“I’m listening and watching for signs of trouble — sirens, even helicopters,” McCrumb said. “That’s because I believe police still have not gotten to the bottom of this terrorist attack.”
Farook, a county restaurant inspector attending the conference, and his Pakistani wife opened fire on his co-workers with .223 semi-automatic rifles, killing 14 and wounding 21. They left a duffel bag with three pipe bombs tied together and wired to a remote control, but it didn’t explode.
FBI Director James B. Comey has said Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook before the attack. He also said agents have found no indication that the couple were part of that or any other terrorist group, but the statement has done little to ease fears.
School officials in San Bernardino County learned that Farook had inspected kitchens and pools at nine campuses in the last couple of months. Law enforcement with bomb-sniffing dogs searched at least one of the schools for explosives he might have left.
On Friday night, San Bernardino police evacuated a UPS sorting facility on Victoria Avenue after a driver noticed a package addressed to Farook’s townhouse.
Another UPS driver, Lamont Hollis, returned to the facility from his deliveries around 7:30 p.m. as the evacuation started.
His initial thought: shooter.
Police were all over. Hollis’ supervisor told him to park his truck and walk down the street. Just get away.
The package turned out to be a delivery from Sears.
Hollis said everyone has been “a little on edge” since Wednesday.
“People don’t know why this sort of thing happens,” he said. “We feel as though there’s really not a whole lot you can do.”
In the early dark at the Donut Hut on Saturday, Fernandino Rodriguez, 39, twirled a straw in his coffee before taking his son fishing in Riverside for the day.
Rodriguez said fishing is the familiar routine he needed on a day the city he knew didn’t feel familiar.
“I’m nervous,” he said. “You hear ambulance and a firetruck’s sirens and you wonder: ''What happened now?’ You’re constantly in fear.”
Efrain Moreno, 52, walked in and ordered coffee.
Moreno said the massacre has made life even more difficult in San Bernardino, a city already suffering from deep poverty, crime and a municipal bankruptcy that has shrunk city services.
The shooting happened not far from his kitchen cabinet shop, where his daughter was working at the time.
“It doesn’t feel safe here anymore,” he said. “You have to be more vigilant now. And you feel lost. What’s going to happen to the city? What’s the future like here?”
The sense of helplessness that family and friends of the victims felt on Wednesday is what many fear the most.
In a letter to parents on Thursday, San Bernardino schools Supt. Dale Marsden asked them to take precautions to keep unwanted visitors out.
“Fences, gates and classroom exits that lead to the outdoors are locked throughout the day and should not be propped open by staff or parents for any reason,” he wrote. “These are just a few of the procedures we must enforce to help ensure that we know who is on campus at all times.”
The jitters extended beyond San Bernardino.
An ominous warning, purportedly from a law enforcement source, circulated late in the week on the social media accounts of Inland Empire residents: “friends & family, especially those in the I.E. ...IT IS NOT OVER**** Friends, Please Take heed There is a terrorist cell in the IE.”
Movie theaters and malls were threatened, it said. Residents should stay away.
The AMC movie theater in the Ontario Mills shopping center was nearly empty at noon on Saturday.
One of the few filmgoers, Kimberly Newsom, a 46-year-old psychologist, said she wasn’t going to let terrorists disrupt her life.
“But of course I’m going to be cautious, diligent and more aware of my surroundings.”
Another, Jackie Moller, a 48-year-old dance teacher, marveled at the weekend quiet. “I just came from the Del Taco a few blocks away and there were no other cars in the drive-through. Imagine that, on Saturday at noon.”
In Redlands, Andres and Thanhya Pedroza are still dealing with the knowledge that they live a few doors down from where Farook and his wife made their pipe bombs.
“You can actually feel the anxiety in the air — everyone is scared and shaken up and wondering when, or if, things will ever return to normal,” said Andres Pedroza, 43. “There’s a sense that there is still more dangerous stuff around here, and God only knows where else, that investigators haven’t found yet.”
Thanhya Pedroza couldn’t get over that it’s happening in Redlands, a place known for its parks, churches, old trees, restored Victorian homes and 108-year-old college.
“Now, we’re having neighbors come up and say incredible things like, ‘We’ve got to stick together!’”
On their street, Anthony Morris, 20, surveyed the ongoing media swarm in front of Farook’s townhouse.
“Considering what happened in Paris and then San Bernardino, yeah, everyone’s on edge and will remain so for quite a while.”
The San Bernardino neighborhood where Farook and his wife were killed in a hail of 380 bullets was shaken more than anywhere, closed off as a crime scene for days, the shot-up Ford Expedition a constant reminder of the violence.
Yvette Ruvacalba, 47, learned the street closure had ended when she heard a car drive past her home after midnight Saturday.
“Oh, it’s open,” she thought.
She felt relief. The eerie silence was over. She could sleep.
Ruvacalba said the shooting brought neighbors closer. They have been checking up on one another to make sure everyone has enough food.
Down the street, past two cars and a truck with bullet holes and shattered windows, next door to the house where the black SUV had sat for days, Ruben Hernandez, 55, scooped up a dead cat with a shovel. Not clear if a bullet got it. But his mailbox was hit, as was the trailer in his driveway.
“This is a different war now, the terrorists are blending in with us,” he said. “It’s in our backyard.”
Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.
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