LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of the suspects in the deadly shooting rampage at a Southern California holiday party grew up in a family in which his mother accused his father of being an abusive alcoholic, according to divorce records.
Syed Farook’s mother alleged in 2006 that her husband attacked her while her children were present, dropped a TV on her and pushed her toward a car, according to the records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
A day after the rampage, details about Farook’s life began to take shape, but critical questions went unanswered, including how someone known as a quiet family man could turn so swiftly into a commando-style attacker intent on slaughtering his co-workers.
Rafia Sultana Farook filed a petition for a domestic violence order of protection on July 3, 2006, against her husband, also named Syed.
Rafia Farook said she was forced to move out of her home with three of her children because her husband continually harassed her “verbally and physically and refused to leave the home,” according to the divorce records.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach the father for comment. No one answered the door at a home in Corona where a neighbor said the father lived.
The AP was unable to corroborate the allegations in the records. The details about the younger Farook’s childhood emerged as authorities tried to determine what could have motivated him and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to open fire Wednesday at a social service center in San Bernardino, killing 14 people and wounding more than a dozen others.
One U.S. official briefed on the investigation said the FBI was treating the shootings as a potential act of terrorism but had reached no firm conclusions.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Syed Rizwan Farook communicated with individuals who were under FBI scrutiny in connection with terrorism investigations.
But the official said the contact was with “people who weren’t significant players on our radar” and dated back some time. The official also said there was no immediate indication of any “surge” in communication ahead of the shooting.
The communication was a “potential factor” being looked at, said the official, who cautioned that “contact with individuals who are subjects of investigations in and of itself doesn’t mean that you a terrorist.”
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said the couple had more than 1,600 bullets when they were killed by authorities, and that the shooters had more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition at their home, as well as 12 pipe bombs and tools that could be used to make explosive devices.
“There was obviously a mission here. We know that,” said David Bowdich of the FBI. “We do not know why. We don’t know if this was the intended target or if there was something that triggered him to do this immediately.”
Muslim leaders in the community said they were unfamiliar with Farook or where he worshipped.
“We don’t know the motives. Is it work, rage-related? Is it mental illness? Is it extreme ideology? At this point, it’s really unknown to us,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based on conversations with Farook’s brother-in-law.
“No one knew the Farook family, and no one knew his wife, either,” said Dr. Taif Kaissi, a member of the Islamic Center of Inland Empire in Rancho Cucamonga.
Syed Rizwan Farook was born in Chicago on June 14, 1987, to parents born in Pakistan. He was raised in Southern California.
In July 2010, he was hired as a seasonal public employee and served until December of that year, according to a work history supplied by San Bernardino County. In January 2012, he was rehired as a trainee environmental health specialist before being promoted two years later to a similar but higher-ranking position.
His job at the county Department of Public Health took him Wednesday to the Inland Regional Center, where the department held a holiday banquet, Ayloush said.
Co-workers provided alternating portraits of the inspector. Some described him as aloof while others said he could be chatty when the subject interested him.
Patrick Baccari, who sat at the same table as Farook at Wednesday’s party, recalled he was short on words and inclined to talk about cars, not religion.
“It seems the only response I ever got from him was if I initiated the conversation,” Baccari said.
A friend of a man killed in the rampage said he and Farook had a heated conversation about Islam two weeks before the attack.
Kuuleme Stephens said she once happened to call Nicholas Thalasinos, a Messianic Jew who was passionate about pro-Israel causes, while he was at work and having a discussion with Farook.
Thalasinos, 52, identified Farook by name and told her that he “doesn’t agree that Islam is not a peaceful religion,” Stephens said.
Stephens said Farook replied that Americans don’t understand Islam. According to Stephens, both men worked as restaurant inspectors and regularly discussed politics and religion. She added that Thalasinos did not think their conversations would turn violent.
Thalasinos’ wife, Jennifer Thalasinos, told The New York Times that her husband had talked about Farook but never said anything negative.
It was unclear how Farook met his wife. He returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia in July 2014 and told co-workers he had been married. Baccari was left with the impression he met his wife on the visit. But he came home without Malik, and she didn’t show up until later.
Malik never came through Saudi Arabia and instead traveled through Islamabad, arriving on a K-1 visa for fiancées and with a Pakistani passport. The couple had a 6-month-old daughter, who they left with relatives before heading to the center.
Dane Adams, of Corona, said Syed Farook’s father, who moved in with his son, Syed’s brother, two doors down a few months ago, was talkative, often visiting as Adams worked on classic cars in the garage. He talked about his family and said he was divorced.
Adams said he often saw the man walking with his grandchild, who Adams guessed was about a year old.
“That baby’s got the cutest smile in the world,” he said.
Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Mississippi, Gillian Flaccus in Anaheim, California, Garance Burke in San Francisco and Jason Keyser in Chicago also contributed to this report.