“I just want to tell you that I love you,” Denise Peraza, a victim of Wednesday night’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, told her sister on the phone, with the news that she had been shot in the lower back.
Peraza is one of many victims of the shooting whose first instinct was to call relatives and update them on their status personally, long before news outlets had yet to piece together the details of the occasion: that 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook and 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik had armed themselves, dressed in all black, and opened fire at a holiday party Farook’s company was holding. The shooting began after Farook disappeared from the dinner table he was sitting at and returned with his wife and weapons in tow.
Local news outlets have chronicled the alarming phone calls and messages family members received from the inside of the scene of the crime. Peraza, who is currently recovering from her injuries at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, was one of many to feel the need to say their final “I love you”s before being taken to the hospital.
Melinda Rivas called her son to explain the situation: “There’s men and they’re wearing all black with masks and there’s a lady down outside.” Rivas and a large group of 40 people remained unharmed after locking themselves into a room. She was exposed to some of the victims, however, including the diseased. Her son, Cameron James, told local news in the early morning hours that he had yet to be able to speak to her since the fateful call, as she had been in high demand by media looking for a witness to tell their story.
Kevin Ortiz, recovering from three bullet wounds, was able to call his wife and his father to inform them of his status. “I’ve been shot three times, Dad. I’m in pain. Don’t worry. There’s a policeman with me,” Ortiz allegedly told his father. He spoke to his wife, Dyana Ortiz, and gave her a similar message and an “I love you.”
Luis Gutiérrez tells the local NBC affiliate that his wife was unable to say much on her call, but he could hear the screams around here. “I didn’t know what was going on. All I heard was, ‘There’s a shooter at work,'” he said, noting that he immediately drove to the scene of the crime to find out what had happened. He later learned she and some coworkers had also locked themselves in a room and used chairs to block to door, waiting for the situation to subside.
Some were not so lucky, and into the early morning hours were still waiting for news. Jeff Thompson told the Press Enterprise early this morning that he was hoping to be updated on his wife’s status. He only heard from her after he had been told she had been shot, her voice a source of relief after hours of uncertainty.
Law enforcement officials are still investigating the scene of the crime, and the name of only one deceased victim has been released at press time: 58-year-old Damian Meins, “the husband of the principal at Sacred Heart School in Rancho Cucamonga.”