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First Times photographer at San Bernardino mass shooting recalls a mad dash with police

Evacuated workers pray in a circle on the fairway of San Bernardino Golf Club, across the street from where they narrowly escaped a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center. This was among the first of several important photos taken by Gina Ferazzi on Dec. 2, 2015.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Because Times photographer Gina Ferazzi likes golf, she captured an important moment during last year’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

The site of the bloodshed, the Inland Regional Center, is across the street from San Bernardino Golf Club, where Ferazzi has played, and which she thought could allow her closer access to the crime scene.

She navigated stealthily through familiar greens and traps — and came upon employees from the IRC. They were huddled together, praying, on the fairway of the second hole.

That image was among the first of several memorable ones Ferazzi caught on Dec. 2, 2015, the Wednesday that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, killed 14 and wounded 22.

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Ferazzi had been scheduled for the night shift, and, in the late morning, was gradually getting into gear. Then she saw the message from photo editor Robert St. John: mass shooting, San Bernardino.

She was on her way.

It was no accident that she got the call; she lives in Riverside and knows the area. She also has experience with mass shootings — one in Arizona that killed six in 2011 and, later that year, the massacre in a Seal Beach beauty salon where eight died.

She realized that police already had ample time to cordon off a wide area by the time she could get there, about 11:45 a.m., so she brought a long, 400-millimeter lens and a “doubler,” which extended its range.

She photographed the prayer vigil without overtly intruding, from 150 yards away.

But investigators were pushing the media back, advising them that one or more shooters were at large and that the area remained dangerous. It was true: Officers later found explosives the suspects had wanted to detonate, but didn’t get the chance to.

SWAT officers search for suspects involved in the San Bernardino shootings that killed 14 at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2, 2015.
SWAT officers search for suspects involved in the San Bernardino shootings that killed 14 at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2, 2015.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

Soon, Ferazzi was part of a frustrating waiting game along with other journalists.

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Then, action swung back Ferazzi’s way, as a stampede of lights and sirens flashed past.

“All these unmarked cop cars were flying by me, I guess Code 3, as they call it, going real fast,” Ferazzi said. “I jumped in the caravan of cop cars. My company car kind of looks like an unmarked cop car: a gray, four-door sedan.

The officers shot through red lights without pause. Ferazzi hesitated, looked both ways, and then also gunned it through the red: “I thought, ‘I won’t get shut out.’ ”

She was in the thick of a police search of a neighborhood that was about three blocks from the shootout between officers and the suspects. Both died in a hail of bullets.

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Ferazzi’s lens caught officers in the tense neighborhood search, with weapons drawn, using a minivan for cover. Her shot became the front page image.

San Bernardino sheriff's deputies crouch tensely behind a minivan on Richardson Street during a search for suspects involved in the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino.
San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies crouch tensely behind a minivan on Richardson Street during a search for suspects involved in the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

The full impact hit later, as she portrayed the shattered lives.

She talked to a man who had been standing next to a Christmas tree at the IRC when one of the shooters pointed a gun at him, point blank, and pulled the trigger. The gun was out of bullets. The would-be victim was able to flee.

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“It just hit a note,” Ferazzi said. “These were just people going to work, attending a party; like, it could happen anywhere.”

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon briefs the media on what was learned about the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015 in San Bernardino.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon briefs the media on what was learned about the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015 in San Bernardino.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times )

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume

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