A CHRISTIAN who fled to the United States to escape persecution in Iran was among at least 14 victims of a mass shooting at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday.
A married couple are reported to have opened fire on a gathering of employees at the San Bernardino public health department, in the Inland Regional Centre, which provides disability services.
Investigations are still under way. However, police believe that Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old health inspector, left the party after a dispute, and returned with his wife Tashfeen Malik, aged 27, to carry out the attack. Both were shot and killed by police after a short car chase.
The family of one of the victims, Benneta Betbadal, aged 46, said in a statement that she had left Iran in 1969 to “escape Islamic extremism and the persecution of Christians that followed the Iranian Revolution”. She eventually moved to Rialto, where she had three children, now aged ten, 12, and 15. Friends wrote on a fundraising page set up for her children that her death was “the ultimate irony”.
The community at the Church in the Woods, in Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino, are raising money to help the family of Mike Raymond Wetzel, aged 37, another of those killed in the attack. He leaves behind a wife and six children aged one to 11. “As his spiritual church family, we are doing all we can to help coordinate an effort with his wife Renee and their children,” a statement on the church website read. The church stayed open all day and night on Thursday for those who wished to pray for the family.
Officials have confirmed that 12 of the victims were county employees. The police chief in San Bernardino, Jarrod Burguan, said that there “had to be some degree of planning” behind the attack, and confirmed that several suspected explosive devices had been found at the scene.
Speaking after a meeting with the FBI and security services on Thursday, President Obama said that it was “possible” that the incident had “terrorist-related” (the perpetrators are said to have been Muslims); but he added that it could also have been work-related. “Our first order of business is to send our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who have been killed, and to pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured,” he said. “At this stage we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred.”
The President repeated the point that he now makes routinely after any mass shooting, that it was “just too easy” for individuals to get hold of the weaponry to carry out random attacks. “We cannot just leave it to our professionals to deal with horrible killings. We all have to deal with it,” he said.
Later, in an interview with the US news channel CBSN, Mr Obama said that common sense, gun-safety laws, and stronger background checks could “improve the odds” of reducing mass shootings in the country. Ultimately, though, the ability to buy firearms was “a law that needs to be changed”.