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How a Lucky Bathroom Trip Spared San Bernardino Survivor

Patrick Baccari was in the bathroom during the gun attack that killed 14 of his colleagues in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.

The San Bernardino County Public Health Department's Christmas party was in full swing on Wednesday morning when food inspector Patrick Baccari left for the bathroom.

It was a break that may have saved his life.

As he reached for the paper towel dispenser, a puff of broken drywall hit Baccari's face, he recalled in an interview. Then he heard an explosion on the other side of the wall, where his co-workers had gathered to share lunch and take group photos during a day of in-service training at the Inland Regional Center.

Baccari looked in the mirror and saw that his face was starting to bleed.

The retired Air Force Reserves medic then noticed bullet holes higher on the wall.

"Get down on the floor!" he shouted to three others in the bathroom.

One man ran. The others stayed.

He and one of the other men held the bathroom door closed with their feet.

"That may have saved me," Baccari said.

Just outside the door, a pair of armed attackers were spraying the conference room with gunfire. When it was over, 14 people were dead and another 20 were wounded.

"He wasn't going to be able to get in. If guess if he did, it'd have been over our dead bodies," he said.

Baccari later learned that one of the suspected attackers was Syed Rizwan Farook, a fellow health inspector with whom he shared a cubicle. Farook had been at the party, and had sat at the same table as Baccari, but left early.

Authorities say Farook returned with his wife and started shooting. They fled the scene but were killed that evening in a confrontation with police.

Another man in the restroom, Chris Nwadike, also a co-worker of Farook's, remembers hearing a loud blast, followed by gunfire.

He and others waited on the floor until police arrived and officers opened the door and asked, "anyone here?" he said.

"I’m very lucky, yes, to be alive today," Nwadike said. "But I couldn’t believe that the guy did that terrible thing."

Baccari escaped the bathroom relatively unscathed — scratches on his face, fragments of metal in his skin. He followed police officers out of the building, helping an injured co-worker on the way.

"I told him I was a medic, another guy said he was, and one of my good friends there, she was shot," Baccari said. "And so I tried to render her aid with what minimal equipment we had."

Baccari said it was obvious the wounds were life threatening. He had not heard from his friend by Thursday.

Asked how many friends he'd lost in the shooting, Baccari replied, "Everybody that died."

He added, "I assumed Syed was our friend as well."