Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik met online and married two years ago, after he presented himself on a Muslim dating site as a devout young man who liked to fix cars and memorize the Quran. They registered at Target when Malik became pregnant, with a cheery newlyweds’ catalog of wishes: a car seat, diapers and safety swabs.
But for all the outward signs of suburban normality, this couple, according to the police, used their comfortable home in a middle-class community near here to stockpile weapons and build pipe bombs. And on Wednesday morning, they left their 6-month-old daughter with her grandmother before heading to a holiday party with Farook’s co-workers where, the police say, they killed 14 people and wounded 21 others. A few hours later, they died in a crush of bullets in a brutal faceoff with the police.
As investigators puzzle over their motives, the couple — the husband born in Illinois and raised in Southern California, the wife born in Pakistan and recently living in Saudi Arabia — have emerged as one of the most perplexing pairs in the recent history of mass homicide. Their lives, and motives, remain mysteries to investigators, who are looking at possible ties to international terrorism but have not ruled out the possibility that this was the bloody culmination of a workplace dispute.
Farook and Malik were observant Muslims, described by friends as quiet and unobtrusive. Farook, 28, who was a lanky 6 feet tall and had a full beard for long periods of his life, graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, with a degree in environmental engineering. He worked for the San Bernardino County health department, checking food surfaces at restaurants and bakeries and chlorine levels in public swimming pools.
Far less is publicly known about Malik, 27, who lived with Farook and his mother in Redlands, about 5 miles from where the attack took place. Farook brought her to the United States in July 2014, with a Pakistani passport and a K-1 visa, which designated her his fiancee. He applied for a permanent resident green card for her in September 2014, and she was granted a conditional card last July after passing a background check.
In registering for one of two dating services he used, Farook said he spoke Urdu, though friends said the couple spoke to each other in English. Farook, in a posting on one of the dating services, said he was open to dating a woman of any faith but was looking for “someone who takes her religion very seriously and is always trying to improve her religion.”
Farook was well known in the religious Muslim community here. From 2012 to 2014, he showed up twice a day for services at the Islamic Center of Riverside, sometimes as early as 4.30am and again in the evenings, said Mustafa H. Kuko, the director of the center. In a mosque where attendance on Fridays regularly tops 1,000, Farook stood out as one of the most devout members, wearing long robes to Friday services.
“He always kept a bit of a distance between him and other people,” Kuko said. “He never had any dispute with anyone here at all. Mostly when the service is over, his usual move is from the prayer to his car.” If he saw the director on the way out, he said “salaam,” but that was it.
Farook grew up in Riverside; his parents were born in Pakistan. He had two sisters and a brother, according to a brother-in-law, Farhan Khan. The brother, Syed Raheel Farook, enlisted in the Navy in 2003 and served for three years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise before leaving the service in 2007, Navy records show. On Thursday, the police searched the brother’s home, neighbors said.
Syed Rizwan Farook was a “normal person” who kept halal “just like any other Muslim,” Khan said. “Why would he do something like that?” he said of the shooting. “I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock.”
Farook’s father was an alcoholic and could be violent, capable of lashing out at his wife and children, according to statements his mother, Rafia Farook, made in a series of divorce proceedings beginning in 2006. The father, also named Syed Farook, called his wife names, screamed at his children, hurled home appliances and, at the worst moments, grew so combative that his children had to step between him and his wife, she asserted.
The elder Farook forced his family to move out of their home in 2006, Rafia Farook said in court papers, but he continued to harass her. “My husband is mentally ill and is on medication but is also an alcoholic and drinks with the medicine,” she said. The marriage was formally dissolved this year.
During those years, the family seemed to struggle with finances. Their home in Riverside, which the parents bought in 2000 before the title was transferred to Rafia Farook’s name, went into the early stages of foreclosure before she made an overdue mortgage payment in 2011.
A neighbor, Victor Venegas, said that the elder Syed Farook had worked for him driving trucks until 2003 and would come around looking for money. “He would sometimes come over without calling,” Venegas said, and ask, “‘Can I have $ 10 to buy cigarettes?’”