(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) — The mass shooting at a San Bernardino Christmas party left a scene of “unspeakable” carnage, said the officer who was first to respond to the incident that left 14 people dead and 21 injured Wednesday.
San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden was on his way to lunch when one of his dispatchers alerted him about the active shooter situation at the Inland Regional Center.
“I know my dispatchers, I know the tone of their voice…I could hear it in my dispatchers’ voices that this was actually happening,” Madden said at a press conference Thursday evening. “It was something that we all train for, it’s something you never actually prepare for.”
The officer rushed to the scene and said he soon realized he would be one of the first one to get there. Madden, a 24-year veteran, arrived at the center with one other officer. Several others got shortly after and Madden assembled a team to go into the building.
“Out of pure luck that I happened to pull into the right location,” he said. “My goal was to assemble a team and enter into the building to address the active shooter…We wanted to stop any further innocent people from getting injured and possibly killed.”
What he saw inside the conference room at the center “was surreal.” “It was all of that and more,” he recounted. “It was unspeakable the carnage that we were seeing.”
“There were victims who were clearly, obviously deceased outside of the conference room,” Madden said, pausing as he recounted the first few moments inside the building. “To be honest, it was a little surreal. You train for it and you know your job is dealing in reality…but I did the job I was supposed to do –- go in there.
There was also “pure panic” on the faces of the individuals who survived, he said. Fire alarms and sprinklers were going off as the officers tried to reach the people inside. There were an estimated 75 at the Christmas luncheon, hosted by the county’s Department of Public Health, according to police.
The lieutenant’s main concern was that there were suspects still in the hallway and that they could have taken people hostage, he said. Madden and his team helped get as many people out as quickly as possible — about 50, he estimated.
“The goal was to locate the shooters and deal with them,” Madden said. After helping the survivors get out, he left the building.
“This was tragedy I’ve never experienced in my career,” Madden said.
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