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The first cop on the scene of the rampage that killed 14 people at a California social services agency described a harrowing, "surreal" panorama of carnage Thursday, vividly detailing panic on the faces of the victims and as chaos enveloped him.
San Bernardino police Lt. Mike Madden — who usually mans a desk as an administrative officer — was on his way to lunch when the calls came in Wednesday about gunfire at the Inland Resource Center, a state-run center for people with developmental disabilities.
Before he even arrived, Madden already knew that the worst was true just from the dispatcher's voice, he told reporters Thursday.
"This was actually happening," he said. "This was a real event."
Madden, who San Bernardino police and sheriff's officials said was the first officer on the scene, said he immediately called for more officers to respond as quickly as possible because he feared an active shooter was still in the center.
As Madden and three other officers made their way to south of the center and then to the east, "it was immediately evident the reports we were getting were 100 percent true," he said.
Related: Timeline of How the Rampage Unfolded
"When we entered, there was fresh gunpowder and the smell of fresh gunpowder in the air" amid the festive holiday scene that had been set up for 75 or more people, most of them county employees, who'd gathered for a training session and a holiday luncheon.
"It was extremely loud," he said, with fire alarms and sprinklers roaring over "the moans and wails we heard" from the wounded. "That was adding to the chaos."
As Madden and his small team advanced, "it was unspeakable, the carnage we were seeing," he said. He went on to describe "pure panic on the faces" of people desperate to be rescued.
"We had to tell them several times, 'come to us, come to us,' and they did, and once that person took the first motions forward, it opened the floodgates."
Madden, a 24-year veteran, said he had gone through active-shooter training, but "although we train for it, it's something you're never prepared for."
"I did the job that I was supposed to do," he said. "People don't call the police because they're having a great day. They call the police because there's a tragedy, and I don't think I've seen tragedy like that before."
Madden said the multiagency response Wednesday reinforced in his mind the service law enforcement officers do every day — something he said is overlooked in controversies over police shootings and alleged police brutality.
"We've taken a lot of hits lately — some of it justified, some of it not justified — and it takes a toll on you. It's hard being labeled a rogue cop. ... There are cops that go astray, but overwhelmingly the vast majority of officers ... do the job to go out and protect the public, and yesterday reminded me of that."