Arriving in the late morning on Dec. 2 at the San Bernardino diocesan pastoral center for his job in the diocese’s Office of Worship, Chris Estrella knew something was very wrong.
“I could see a police blockade of Waterman Avenue, which is where the Inland Regional Center is located,” said Estrella, a music and liturgy assistant. Once at his desk, Estrella turned on his computer and saw the reason for the blockade: The Inland Regional Center had become a murder scene, with 14 people killed and 17 more wounded.
“At that time, realistically, I felt safe,” Estrella, 27, said on Dec. 3. “But I worried about my family—my parents, my siblings, including my little brother, who attends Our Lady of the Assumption School not that far away. Fortunately they were all safe.”
But the pastoral center—and Catholic schools in the city—remained on lockdown for hours until “they began shuffling us out and told us, ‘Go home, be with your families,’” said Estrella. Two armed suspects—later identified as Syed Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27—were killed by police four hours later in a shootout about two miles from the social services center.
“I expect we will be remembering the victims” at a previously scheduled prayer service on Dec. 5, said Estrella, who added that more plans for prayer liturgies and Catholic community outreach were to be discussed at a meeting on Dec. 7 with diocesan staff led by Bishop R. Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino.
“Like Bishop Barnes said, this is a time for prayer, a time to pray for peace,” said Estrella. “I know there are many people all over who are praying for us here in such a terrible time, and I want to extend my thanks to all of them. We don’t need any more violence.”
Bishop Barnes attended a candlelight vigil on Dec. 3 at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino to remember those who died in the shooting. During the service, the names of the 14 people who were killed were read out. In a statement the previous day, Bishop Barnes urged people to pray for unity and healing after the mass shooting. “Our community of San Bernardino has faced great challenges through the years,” he said. “Let us come together now in unity to bring light to the darkness of this day.”
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said in a statement on Dec. 3 that it is “hard to understand this kind of violence and the hatred that motivates it. We ask how people can do such things, what is in their hearts? In these times, we need to trust in the providence of God and rely on his mercy.
“Our Christian faith tells us that we must overcome evil with good and respond to hatred with love. So this is our challenge in the days ahead,” he added.
Some have linked the attack to terrorism—press reports on Dec. 4 indicate that Farook’s wife, Malik, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook posting. Others point to the broader issues of the acceptance of violence and the proliferation of guns in American society. According to data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week, more background checks for guns were run on Black Friday this year than ever previously recorded—185,347. Since 1998, the F.B.I. has processed 220 million background checks for firearms.
According to the Mass Shooting Tracker (shootingtracker.com) at press time, on 209 out of the 336 days so far this year, there has been one or more shootings somewhere in the United States—353 shootings in all—in which at least four people were killed or injured. Since January, almost every state has had at least one such mass shooting, and many have had far more.