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Suspect in California bar shooting that left 3 dead was targeting his wife, sources say

Six other people were transported to a hospital, five of whom had gunshot wounds, Orange County Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said.
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LOS ANGELES — A gunman who opened fire at a beloved California bar popular with bikers, leaving three people dead, is a former law enforcement officer who targeted his wife, authorities said Thursday.

The shooter was identified as 59-year-old John Snowling, who retired as a sergeant from the Ventura Police Department in 2014, the Orange County District Attorney's Office said.

Snowling was among those killed when gunfire erupted at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon just after 7 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, officials said.

Four people in all were pronounced dead at the scene, including the gunman, officials said. Six other people were transported to a hospital, five of whom had gunshot wounds, Orange County Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said.

The shooter's "wife was injured in the shooting and is not deceased," the sheriff said Thursday.

Orange County sheriff's deputies encountered the armed man and a shooting that involved multiple deputies, leaving the gunman dead, Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said.

"This is an absolute tragic event and something that I know is probably weighing very heavy on the entire Trabuco Canyon community," Hallock said. "Cook's Corner, I mean, it's a staple here in south Orange County."

Customer Betty Fruichantie was at the bar listening to a band with the gunman's wife when they heard loud pops behind them, sounds they first thought were firecrackers.

"And then he starts shooting and me and ... his wife, and all of sudden, she hits the floor and I didn’t know if she got hit or if she was just ducking from the bullets," Fruichantie told NBC Los Angeles.

"He had two guns and he was just going bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And I just felt them (bullets) going by me, moving past my face on both sides. "

It took a few seconds for some bar patrons to realize a shooting was underway before they took off.

"When I saw people running I’m like, 'Oh my god, I got shot at and I didn't die and I better run now before I get killed," Fruichantie recalled. "It was like a madhouse. Everyone was getting up and running."

She and others hid in a bathroom where "we heard a lot of gunshots, a whole bunch of gunshots" before coming out to see fallen bodies all over the bar with survivors trying to hold their wounds.

"It was awful, it was awful," Fruichanti said.

Police officers work at the scene of a shooting "Cook's Corner"
Police officers work at the scene of a shooting "Cook's Corner" in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., on Aug. 23, 2023.Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images

The identities of those killed were not immediately released.

Two of the injured were in critical condition, Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo said in a statement. The four others were stable, it said.

Three law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said the gunman targeted his wife, but it was not clear whether she was among the dead or injured. The sources stressed details were preliminary and did not identify where he previously worked.

Hallock said at least one weapon was recovered. He said that investigators were also looking at whether the gunman was a former member of law enforcement but that it was too early to confirm any of that.

"We're working to confirm that, and would expect to have that information maybe tomorrow, if in fact it's true," he said.

When deputies arrived, their radios captured the sound of gunfire, which was heard by dispatchers, Hallock said. It was not clear whether that was the shooting involving deputies.

"It is our understanding that dispatch could hear gunshots going off in the background," he said.

Cook’s Corner advertises itself as one of the most famous biker bars in Southern California, and it goes back to the 1930s.

It opened in 1931 as a roadside hamburger restaurant, later became a bar and was discovered by bikers in the 1970s, the Los Angeles Times reported in a history of the establishment published in 2005.

Around 30 to 40 witnesses were not injured, Hallock said. Investigators were conducting interviews Wednesday night.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said it was aware of the shooting and coordinating with local officials.

State Sen. Catherine Blakespear, whose district includes Orange County, said she was “devastated.”

“My heart aches for those involved,” she wrote on social media. “My team and I are monitoring the situation and thank the first responders for their involvement at the scene.”

State Sen. Dave Min, who also represents the county, called Cook’s Corner “a historic bar in the heart of Orange County.”

“Our district is one of the safest areas in the country, and yet we too are repeatedly afflicted with the scourge of mass shootings,” Min wrote.

Trabuco Canyon is a community of around 1,000 in the foothills in Orange County, about 12 miles east of Irvine.