The ex-cop accused of shooting three people dead and injuring six others at a California bar on Wednesday night walked into the venue and without speaking a word, approached his estranged wife, shot her, and then kept firing at strangers.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes released harrowing new details late Thursday about the massacre at Cook’s Corner bar, a historic hangout in Orange County—about 120 miles from where Snowling was once an officer.
Barnes confirmed that despite reports the bar was once a known biker hangout, “it has transitioned into something much beyond what it is. It is a gathering place, it’s a place for families to go share a meal.”
Wednesday night was spaghetti night when the shooter, identified by authorities as John Snowling, entered Cook’s Corner armed with two firearms, walked directly to his wife, shot her and her friend, then began “randomly” firing at others, Barnes said.
“We do not believe there was any argument that ensued, he drew a weapon, he fired upon his wife, soon to be ex-wife. She was struck once,” he added, without going into the details of the nature of her injuries.
Law enforcement sources told The Los Angeles Times that the estranged wife, Marie Snowling, who was shot in the lower jaw but survived.
All of the victims who were subsequently shot were adults, Barnes said. Only one deceased victim, John Lahey, 67, of Irvine, has been identified. Of the injured, two people remained in critical condition on Thursday morning while the other four were stable.
Snowling, a 59-year-old former sergeant in Ventura who retired in 2014, died in a shootout with law enforcement in a parking lot outside the bar.
Records show that Marie filed for divorce in December. Her father, William Mosby, told the Los Angeles Daily News that Snowling was a “crazy husband” who was not taking the divorce well.
James Goldsmith, a former neighbor of the couple, said Snowling was “always kind of a standoffish kind of person,” and that Marie was divorcing him because he never wanted to leave the house.
“I think it reached a point where it felt like life was passing [Marie] by because [Snowling] didn’t want to do anything,” he told the Times. “He would barely maintain the house. I think she wanted to have friends and live life and that’s why I think she made the move that she did. It’s sad that he couldn’t allow that and let her live her own life.”
Goldsmith said the couple moved to separate homes once they split—Marie to Orange County with her ailing mother, Snowling to Ohio. Goldsmith said he sensed Snowling was “controlling” over Marie’s life. He said he didn’t know if Marie was in a new relationship, but she was an “absolute sweetheart” who was more social than Snowling.
Cops said they believe Snowling “traveled from Ohio with an ongoing dispute regarding the separation, pending divorce, with his wife.”
Snowling was photographed by the Los Angeles Times in 2000 while patrolling the Pacific View Mall in Ventura, about 60 miles up the coast from Los Angeles. He told the paper back then, “This isn’t LA, where we have shootings and stabbings.” Records show he was employed by the Ventura Police Department between 1986 and 2014, retiring as a sergeant.
Witnesses said there were two birthday parties being held at Cook’s Corner on Wednesday, which had a live band playing as it served up $8 spaghetti plates as its nightly special.
Musician Debbie Johnson told the Daily News that Snowling appeared to “deliberately” shoot two people as he entered the bar around 7 p.m. Johnson said her rock band, M Street, continued playing during the first volley of bullets thinking it may be a birthday gag. Once bodies started to drop, however, the music was cut and chaos ensued.
She said Snowling opened fire on her band, striking two of its five members. She told the Daily News she escaped injury by hiding behind speakers with her husband.
Another survivor, Skip Patrick, told KTLA 5 he heard a “bang, bang, bang” of gunfire that “just kept going.” People “started screaming and running all over,” he said, so he ducked for cover.
He said the gunman unleashed more than “100 rounds” and seemed to open fire at anyone and everyone in the bar: “If he saw someone, he was shooting at them. He didn’t care who it was.”
Cops said that a woman who was sharing a meal with his wife was among those struck by gunfire. The woman was able to make it outside but ultimately succumbed to her injuries.
At one point, the gunman walked back to the parking lot to retrieve more guns, Patrick said.
Once there, he grabbed a third handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun from his truck. At that time a man went up to encounter the suspect but he was shot and later died of his injuries.
The third deceased victim–a man–was also shot outside.
Barnes said that once deputies arrived, they didn’t know where the shooter was so they split to quickly cover ground.
Snowling was found in the upper parking lot and began firing multiple rounds at deputies from a shotgun. No deputies were struck or injured, however.
“Despite the great danger, they progressed and encountered that individual and a deputy involved shooting occurred,” Barnes said. Multiple deputies were involved “and we do know and do believe that it was the gunfire from those deputies that ultimately took the life of that individual,” he added.
Betty Fruichantie, a survivor, posted several videos and photos from the scene. She wrote Thursday that Snowling fired “4 or 6” times straight at her.
“But he missed me,” she said. “Thank you God!!”
She said she was “feeling devastated for all of our friends at Cook’s Corner who got shot...That is our happy place, and no one can take that away from us.”