2016 Breaking News, Medium Newsroom finalist

San Bernardino Terrorist Attack

“It was the different sound in her voice that forced my attention from my computer screen."

Staff of the Los Angeles News Group and San Bernardino Sun

Los Angeles News Group
San Bernardino Sun

Breaking News, Medium Newsroom


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Judges comments

Really amazing coverage of a terrorist event on a local community. Nicely laid out, excellent use of explanatory journalism.

About the Project

The first call came in at 10:58 a.m. on Dec. 2 – active shooter at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Within minutes, police, fire and paramedics were scrambling to respond. In the office of The Sun, less than three miles from the center, scanners began to squawk: “Units, just now, shots fired. … Inland Regional Center, 1365 South Waterman. Call number 6127. We have an active shooter!”

Breaking news reporters Beatriz Valenzuela and Doug Saunders were on the story immediately: Valenzuela broke the story with her first tweet at 11:11 a.m. as Saunders bolted out of the office.

“I heard the voice of the senior dispatcher for the San Bernardino Police Department come across the police scanner sitting on my desk,” Saunders said. “It was the different sound in her voice that forced my attention from my computer screen. That sound made me react.”

Saunders, the first reporter on the scene, arrived at IRC so quickly the police tape went up behind him, and he found himself on lock down as first responders cleared the area.

“I was stuck inside the perimeter of the original crime scene,” Saunders said.

The enormity of the story quickly became clear as reporters obtained preliminary information – that there were more than a dozen victims, many of them dead. The Sun proceeded cautiously, reporting information as it was obtained but exercising care to ensure our reporting was lucid and that we did not overreach. Updates were attributed, and reporters were clear about what they knew and what they didn’t know. Ultimately, 14 were confirmed dead and 21 injured (authorities initially said 20 injured, but several days later identified a 21st injury). While rumors flew regarding the possible identity of the shooter or shooters, their names – Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik – weren’t confirmed until later that night, and it took investigators two days more to confirm they were inspired by ISIS.

Over the course of that first day, The Sun’s staff posted constant updates to social media and published dozens of stories to along with more than 130 photos and videos. The Sun’s first story appeared on at 11:31 a.m., just 20 minutes after Valenzuela’s first tweet. By 11:40 a.m. a live blog was capturing staff updates as the bits and pieces came in, and staffers Rachel Luna and Micah Escamilla had joined Saunders and Valenzuela in the field. They would soon be joined by staff from throughout the Los Angeles News Group’s footprint, as personnel were diverted from their regular assignments to assist with coverage of the emerging story.

As media from around the country descended, editors at The Sun determined the best course of reporting for the hometown paper would be to focus not just on the crime, the victims and the shooters, but to take into account the local impact on a city already struggling with high crime rates and battered by an endless slog in bankruptcy court. We turned to columnist Michel Nolan, who perfectly formulated the notion in a spot-news column: “San Bernardino will not lie down in fear because terror has come to town,” she wrote.

The Sun developed profiles of the victims and survivors, featuring them on a special page online and in a 12-page special print section published on Sunday, Dec. 6, just four days after the attack. For that Sunday section, which staff reported, wrote and designed alongside continuing coverage of the breaking story, The Sun chose to focus on the resilience of the community rather than a detailed retelling of the shooting. While the mainbar of that section is included here, the rest of the section – which included profiles of the victims, an editorial, letters from readers, an editor’s column, and another from a prominent local religious leader – is included in the supplemental materials.

These pieces merely hint at the larger body of work produced by staff of The Sun and the Los Angeles News Group. As the story continued to break, reporters and photographers worked around the clock to keep readers informed, publishing scores of stories along with hundreds of photos and videos. We covered rallies, memorials and funerals, and kept ahead of the investigation as attention turned to the shooters, who were themselves slain in a gunbattle with police. The story continued to break as the days passed: Federal investigators declared the shooting “an act of terror” and described husband and wife Farook and Malik as radicalized Muslim extremists. Enrique Marquez, a friend of one of the shooters, was charged in connection with the attack, accused of providing the weapons and of conspiring with Farook on attack plans that were never carried out.

In addition to the stories included with this submission, staffers reported on the K-1 visa program, under which Malik was able to enter the U.S., the burgeoning #SBStrong movement as a show of local solidarity, a 2012 terror investigation that authorities later said had dissuaded Farook and Marquez from carrying out attacks they were planning at that time and numberless other angles. When President Barack Obama visited San Bernardino to meet with survivors, first responders and family members of victims, The Sun was selected to serve as the local pool in the presidential press corps.

The Sun’s reporters, photographers and editors have worked and continue to work tirelessly to provide thoughtful, comprehensive coverage, keeping readers abreast of what happened, and just as importantly, what it means.