At least three people were killed and six more wounded after a former police officer opened fire in a shooting that appeared to target his estranged wife at an iconic biker bar in Southern California’s Orange County Wednesday evening, authorities said. The gunman is also dead.
The suspect was killed by “multiple” deputies who confronted him minutes after they arrived, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told reporters at a late night briefing.
The gunman, identified Thursday as John Snowling, 59, and the three others who were fatally shot were pronounced dead at the scene, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said at the initial briefing.
Fennessy said five of the six who were hospitalized were suffering from gunshot wounds, but authorities Thursday said all six had in fact been shot. Two were in critical but stable condition and four were in stable condition as of Thursday morning, according to the hospital where they were treated.
One of the deceased victims was identified as John Leahy, 67, of Irvine. The other two people killed had not been publicly identified as of Thursday evening, but were described as a man and a woman.
The sheriff’s department said no deputies were hurt during the incident.
The shooting occurred at the historic Cook’s Corner bar in the Trabuco Canyon community at about 7 p.m. local time. In a Thursday news conference, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, it was inaccurate to call the location a biker bar, despite the bar’s own website referring to itself that way.
“That might have been what it was 30, 40 years ago, but has transitioned into something much beyond what that is,” Barnes said. “It’s a gathering place. It’s a place for families to go to share a meal. And it’s a tightknit community within the Trabuco Canyon.”
Snowling was a former sergeant with the Ventura Police Department who retired in 2014, Barnes said, noting that the gunman lived in Ohio but also had a home in Southern California.
“We believe he traveled from Ohio with an ongoing dispute regarding the separation and pending divorce with his wife,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Snowling entered the bar with two firearms and went “directly” to his wife. There was no argument or exchange before Snowling opened fire, shooting his wife once, Barnes said.
“Somebody who was sharing a meal with his ex-wife was also shot at and struck by gunfire,” Barnes said. That woman was able to get outside of the bar, but ultimately died of her wounds, Barnes said.
Snowling then began firing “randomly” at other people both inside and outside the bar, Barnes said. After leaving the inside of Cook’s Corner, Snowling went to his truck and got a third handgun and a shotgun. Someone confronted Snowling at that point, but he was shot and killed, Barnes said.
Barnes did not elaborate on the wife’s injuries, however, Providence Mission Hospital said in a statement that it had received one adult female from the shooting. She had been shot in the jaw and arrived in critical condition. She was stabilized and transferred overnight to UCI Medical Center, the hospital said.
The other critical patient was an adult male who had been shot in the chest, Providence Mission Hospital said.
The four patients in stable condition were all adult males. One was released overnight and two were likely to be sent home Thursday, the hospital said. The fourth patient had been shot in the arm and was scheduled for surgery Thursday.
Hallock said dispatchers could hear gunfire in the background from deputies’ radios when they arrived at the scene.
CBS Los Angeles spoke to a man who said he lost a friend who was shot in the back as the two tried to flee. He said he thought his friend had only tripped, but found out later that the friend had been killed.
He said he barricaded himself in the kitchen along with a man he described as a cook who’d been shot it the arm. The man armed himself with a frying pan and they waited there until it was safe to come out.
The man also told CBSLA about a woman the gunman had allowed to escape. The man said the woman, who worked at the bar, told him she pleaded with the gunman, “Please don’t shoot me, I’m 5 months pregnant.” The gunman allegedly told her to “get out of here,” and she did.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that she was “heartbroken to hear of another senseless mass shooting, this time in our own backyard.”
The Cook’s Corner website says the bar is “considered to be one of the most famous biker bar & restaurants in Southern California.”
“We’ve experienced major earthquakes, forest fires, floods, recessions and other disasters,” the bar says on the site. “We’ve gotten through all of them and came out stronger.”
The bar was hosting a spaghetti night special between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Deputies estimated that there were 30-40 people inside when the gunman started shooting.
Wendy Koro, Operations Manager for Russ Brown Motorcycle Attorneys, told CBSLA Cook’s Corner is a “legendary landmark.”
“The public, in general, might have the wrong impression that this is a rough and tumble place where there is a lot of hard drinking and hard partying and you know, decent people don’t go there,” said Koro. “It really couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Koro added that the venue is the “heart of the Orange County riding community.”
Trabuco Canyon is about 55 miles south of Los Angeles.