Donald Trump sits behind his desk on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan. It is 2pm, and he has just got off the phone with America’s most famous football player, Tom Brady.
The motives of anyone who plans a mass shooting are necessarily murky and complex. But the actions of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the young couple who seemingly left their infant daughter with a relative the morning before they shot dead 14 people at a Christmas work party, seem more incomprehensible still.
Their attack at the Inland Regional Center, which lies 60 miles (95km) east of Los Angeles, also injured 17 people and was the deadliest shooting on US soil since the Sandy Hook elementary school massacrein 2012.
More incongruous still, it is now known that the couple, who died in a frenzied gunfight with police after fleeing the shooting scene, began their day by leaving their six-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother
Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, said Farook, 28, and Malik, 27, said they were going to a doctor’s appointment. Farook’s mother became worried when she heard reports about the shooting and tried to call the couple without success.
Ayloush helped organise an impromptu press conference by Farook’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, who told reporters he was utterly baffled at what had happened. “I have no idea why would he do that,” Khan said. “I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock myself.”
Chief Jarrod Burguan, from the San Bernardino police, said the pair were previously unknown to police. “We have not ruled out terrorism,” he added. Burguan said the shooting spree had clearly been planned in advance and that the suspects left several explosive devices, which appeared to be pipe bombs, at the scene of the massacre.
Speaking to CNN, Ayloush said Farook’s family told him they “had no clue that this could happen”. He said: “The suspect is married, has a six-month-old baby. They have no reason [about] what made him snap. Was it workplace related? Is it mental illness? Is it some twisted ideology? It is really unknown to us. All they [the family] can do share with everybody sorrow and prayers.”
Ayloush added: “The family is devastated, like all Americans. This is the time for us to express solidarity among all of us Americans in rejecting whatever the motives might have been. There is absolutely no justification for such horrendous behaviour.”
Before Wednesday, the couple appeared utterly ordinary to those who knew them. Farook, whose parents are believed to come from Pakistan, had worked at the county health department for five years, with online records indicating he earned about $70,000 (£46,000) a year. He is listed online as an environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County and is believed to have lived locally. He recently wrote an inspection report on a Mexican restaurant in Rialto.
While police said they were unsure whether the pair were engaged or married, reports said they had been married for two years. The LA Times reported that Farook travelled to Saudi Arabia to see Malik after meeting her online. He told co-workers that his wife was a pharmacist.
Patrick Baccari, a fellow health inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook, told the LA Times that the couple appeared to be “living the American dream”. Others said Farook was quiet and polite, with no obvious grudges.
Griselda Reisinger, who worked with Farook before leaving the agency in May, said: “He never struck me as a fanatic. He never struck me as suspicious.” She added that she had heard that the office recently threw a baby shower for Farook and that he had taken paternity leave.
Farook graduated from California State University with a degree in environmental health in 2009, Heavy reports. On an internet dating profile from several years ago, Farook said he enjoyed reading religious books and shooting target practice with his younger sister, according to the Daily Caller.
He reportedly described himself as coming from a “religios [sic] but modern family of 4, 2 girls 2 boys”, adding: “I work for county as health, safety and envorimental [sic] inspector. Enjoy working on vintage and modern cars, read religios books, enjoy eating out sometimes travel and just hang out in back yard doing target pratice [sic] with younger sister and friends.”
According to court filings, Farook and his siblings sometimes found themselves caught in the middle of violent domestic disputes involving his mother, Rafia, and his 66-year-old father, also named Syed. Rafia filed for legal separation in 2008.
Court filings in 2006 and 2008 show that Rafia filed restraining orders against the elder Syed, describing him as a mentally ill, unstable alcoholic on medication who “threatens to kill himself on a daily basis”. She requested he be ordered to stay away from the family home in Riverside, about a half-hour drive south of the shooting scene in San Bernardino.
The filings allege that the children witnessed several violent episodes. In one incident in February 2008, she claimed: “Syed had a fight with my son and me and he got drunk. I called at 6am to his brother in Chicago and I said he threatening to kill himself [sic]. His brother called the police from Chicago and the police was at my house at 5am and they put him in the county hospital for 72 hours observation.”