S. E. Williams
Witnesses report the first shots rang out early Easter morning, March 27, in a remote camping area of the San Bernardino National Forest. According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department the first 911 reports came in around 8:20 AM.
Deputies from the Victor Valley Sheriff’s Station responded to the ‘reports of shots fired’ in the Deep Creek Hot Springs area of Apple Valley. Deep Creek Hot Springs is located in the Northern Mojave Desert section of the San Bernardino National Forest near Hesperia in San Bernardino County—Deep Creek Hot Springs area is a popular location frequented by campers, especially during holiday periods.
The reporting parties told the 911 operator more than 100 shots were heard and five to seven subjects wearing turbans were seen in the area shooting assault rifles, handguns, and shotguns.
According to at least one witness report, the men appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, some wore turbans and they were heard chanting in a foreign language.
Although the first official report was logged by the sheriffs at 8:20 AM, one camper told a local reporter for The Alpenhorn News he was awakened by gunfire around 6:30 AM.
Another witness who identified himself to the reporter as Dave said he had been camping in the Deep Creek area and was also awakened by gunfire. Dave said he observed several men standing on the hiking trails before they spread out along the side of the hill shooting in various directions. He described their weapons as 9 mm and .45 caliber handguns.
According to Dave, the shooting not only continued, it intensified. As a result, he packed up his gear and hiked out of the area. It was about a twenty minute hike. During that time he purportedly heard more than 200 shots being fired. Dave said every time he heard shots ringing out he took cover behind a nearby rock. He also confirmed he never had a sense any shots were directed at him; instead, he was worried that the shooting appeared to be indiscriminate and with the lack of light so early in the morning he did not want to take any chances.
Another witness expressed concern that anyone would be shooting in an area known to be frequented by campers; particularly when it was still dark and any intended targets would be hard to see.
The Sheriff’s Aviation Unit was the first to arrive on the scene. They conducted an aerial check for the alleged shooters while patrol units from the Victor Valley Station responded. The sheriff’s helicopter arrived and located a group of 17 males walking away from the creek carrying back packs and other items. The flight crew described the large group to reporters as “Middle Eastern males in their twenties.”
When the men noticed the helicopter they reportedly gathered their belongings and began hiking away from the area toward the Bowen Ranch parking lot. Bowen Ranch is a popular parking and camping area reported to have the best access point to the Deep Creek Hot Springs. According to members of the helicopter crew, the men split into two groups—the larger group of ten stopped and huddled.
The helicopter set down near an area where campers were located. They were told by campers, not only were all of the men armed with handguns, they were also reportedly up all night chanting and singing. One source said although they chanted in a foreign language he did understand the term, ‘Allah.’
Deputies from Apple Valley, Hesperia, and Victorville Police Stations, in addition to a local agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), all responded to the scene to assist.
The Voice has reached out to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI and Victor Valley Sheriff’s Station, the lead agency. In all instances the spokespersons for these agencies appeared responsive but evasive.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Department Spokesperson Cynthia Bachman referred to the department’s press release and suggested contacting the Victor Valley Sheriff’s Station to determine, “If they were releasing any additional information.”
FBI Public Affairs Officer Laura Eimiller told The Voice, “We only had very limited involvement due to a report of suspicious activity on federal land.” According to Eimiller, whenever there is suspicious activity on federal property her agency is asked to respond. She further advised, “The inquiry is ongoing. To date,” she added, “No charges have been filed.”
Eimiller also confirmed the FBI had not issued a press release regarding the incident. The agency only issues a press release when a suspect is arrested or charged, she explained. She suggested following up with local authorities.
Spokesperson for the Victory Valley Sheriff Department, Pam Hoffman, told The Voice no report was made of the incident and there was no ongoing investigation. According to Hoffman, “they [the men] were detained while the deputies determined whether there was any criminal activity. There was no activity so they were released.”
Hoffman was asked about the affiliation between the men. In other words, were they friends on a camping trip; members of a church group, etc. she replied, “there is no information regarding that.” She was also asked if the men explained why they were shooting weapons in a remote area so early on an Easter morning, to which Hoffman replied, “they did not”, and added, “there wasn’t a report.”
Hoffman confirmed there was at least an incident report completed; however, when asked for an electronic copy she stated an electronic copy was not available.
None of the agencies would confirm whether any of the men were on a “terror watch list.” According to officials because the men were not arrested, their information was considered confidential.
A press release issued by San Bernardino County Sheriff Department headquarters stated in part, “the subjects were detained and searched. Several handguns, a rifle, and a shotgun were found during a search of the backpacks and bedding the subjects had been carrying. The subjects were very cooperative and were interviewed.”
The release continued, “a records’ check of the subjects, their weapons, and their vehicles was completed. The records check revealed none of the subjects had a criminal history or outstanding warrants, the weapons were registered with the Department of Justice except for the rifle, and the vehicles were also registered.”
Although witnesses told their stories to local reporters the press release stated, “several hikers were contacted, but none of them witnessed the guns being fired.”
The press release concluded, “there was no evidence found that a crime had been committed by any of the subjects who were detained and they were released.”
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is urged to contact Deputy S. Scranton or Sergeant D. Rodriguez at (760) 552-6800. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463) or online at www.wetip.com.
The Voice will continue to follow this story.