(CNN)The gunpowder was still lingering in the air as San Bernardino Police Lt. Mike Madden and three other officers approached a conference center where a mass shooting had been reported.
Bodies had fallen outside the meeting room in San Bernardino, California, where a holiday party with about 80 guests had been underway when two people armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols walked in and sprayed the crowd with scores of bullets.
Fourteen people died and 21 more were wounded. The names of the dead were released Thursday.
Madden, a dispatch supervisor on his way to lunch, was a mile away Wednesday when the dispatchers started frantically calling for units to head to the Inland Regional Center.
He said he had trained for events like this, but the scene was still surreal. It was sensory overload.
The fire alarms were blaring. People were moaning. Others cried out for help. Bodies lay in a room with a Christmas tree and festive decorations.
Two minutes after he had arrived at the center, he had assembled a small team to go into the meeting room.
“It was unspeakable, the carnage that we were seeing, the number of people who were injured and, unfortunately, already dead, and the pure panic on the faces of those individuals that were still in need and needing to be safe,” Madden told reporters Thursday.
‘The moans and the wails’
The officers couldn’t be sure the shooters were gone. Some witnesses described two shooters; others said there were three. Someone said one person had escaped in a dark SUV, Madden said.
They didn’t know the shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik — had fled in the truck.
Madden felt bad that he couldn’t stop to help the wounded.
“There were people who were obviously injured and obviously in great amounts of pain. And that was evident in the moans and the wails that we were hearing,” he said.
But he was worried the 50 or so people who fled to a back hallway were now hostages. Or the shooters were still in the building somewhere. He had to confront that situation.
Backup came quickly, and they tried to evacuate the survivors. The people hiding in the hall were reluctant to move or were too much in shock.
Officers yelled at them to come forward. They stayed. They asked several more times. Finally, one person moved, and it was a rush.
Madden — who was born in San Bernardino, grew up there and joined the police department 24 years ago — said he felt like his town was under attack.
Authorities have said they are still not sure of the shooters’ motive, but terrorism likely was part of the killers’ plan.
Officials: Farook appeared to have been radicalized
Law enforcement sources said it appears Syed Farook was radicalized and the belief contributed to the shooting motivation, though other motivations like workplace grievances could also have played a role. President Barack Obama hinted as much Thursday when he said that the attackers may have had “mixed motives.”
Farook was in touch with more than one terrorism subject who the FBI were already investigating, according to other law enforcement officials. But his contacts with them were scant and months old.
Davis told CNN, “The desperation and despair that they feel, we feel that for them also.”
At least 10 people were still hospitalized Thursday, split evenly between Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Loma Linda University Medical Center. The Loma Linda hospital CEO, Kerry Heinrich, said two of the victims there were in critical condition.
Once again after a mass shooting, Obama appealed Thursday for something to be done to prevent more heartache.
“Right now, it’s too easy,” he said. “We’re going to have to search ourselves as a society … to take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — to let individuals get access to weapons.”