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Even As Details Emerge In San Bernardino Shooting, Motive Remains Murky

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Authorities are scouring social media accounts for clues after yesterday's shooting here that left 14 people dead. The county coroner has now released the names of the victims. The two suspects in the shooting have also been identified - Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. They were killed by the police. The FBI has counterterrorism agents working with local police to find a motive. The investigation could remain active for some time. Today, President Obama addressed the rampage in remarks from the Oval Office.

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BARACK OBAMA: It is possible that this was terrorist related, but we don't know. It's also possible that this was workplace related.

MCEVERS: With us to talk about the investigation is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. And Carrie, authorities here in San Bernardino say there's no imminent or credible threat to people here still. So what is keeping investigators so busy?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: One simple thing, Kelly. They're trying to figure out what motivated Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to bring out assault-style rifles, pipe bombs and other material to a holiday party being held by his employer, the public health department there in San Bernardino. Investigators say the couple was on a mission.

Kelly, they sprayed the room with up to 75 rounds. Fourteen people died, 21 wounded. And local police say they actually caught a break because a jerry-rigged remote control car that was set to detonate three pipe bombs never exploded. The suspects, of course, died in a shootout in their rented SUV four hours after that episode and a hail of gunfire they exchanged with 23 officers on the scene.

MCEVERS: As we said, this investigation is now being led by the FBI with help from local law enforcement partners. What is law enforcement doing right now?

JOHNSON: The FBI flew in a team from Washington, D.C., to help reconstruct the crime scene. They're collecting evidence at that site and at the site where the suspects were killed, and they're flying some of that material back to the FBI lab back in Quantico, Va. Here's David Bowdich, the assistant director of the FBI based in Los Angeles.

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DAVID BOWDICH: The digital media is incredibly important because we are trying to determine the motive. And we're hoping that some of that digital media exploitation will help us in obtaining some of that. Again, it would be responsible of me, and it would be way too early for us to speculate on motive.

JOHNSON: Kelly, I'm told by federal officials briefed on the investigation that the male suspect had some kind of social media contact with people overseas who've been on the FBI radar. But there are really big questions right now about how significant that contact was and what it all mean. So far, the FBI has been very clear. There's no determination he was directed to act by people overseas.

MCEVERS: And what do we know about the weapons that these suspects used?

JOHNSON: That's another important part of this ongoing investigation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined the male suspect legally purchased two handguns, and two assault-style rifles they used at the attack on the center were legally purchased by a third person who's not considered a suspect at this time but who's being interviewed by investigators.

Then, of course, there's the issue of where they got their hand on those pipe bombs at the Inland Regional Center and a dozen more at their residence - lots more questions for investigators to pursue.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.