M Street, a high-energy rock and dance band, was two songs into its set list Wednesday night at Cook’s Corner bar and restaurant when, without a sound, 59-year-old John Patrick Snowling, holding two handguns, pointed one of them at his estranged wife, Marie Snowling, and shot her in the jaw.
It was around 7:04 p.m., and customers inside the Santiago Canyon Road hangout began making 911 calls. Band members ducked behind speakers and other people hid, including one man who phoned his girlfriend. Deputies were dispatched and a minute later Orange County Fire Authority paramedics rolled.
It would not be long before the deputies killed John Snowling. In between, three people would be slain and six others wounded.
Witness statements, dispatch records and other information from law enforcement and fire authorities suggest a timeline of the tragedy.
After the gunman, a retired Ventura Police Department sergeant, shot his wife multiple times, he then fired at another woman. She made it out of the front of the restaurant, where she collapsed and died.
John Snowling then began shooting random people, both inside and out front, where a man was fatally struck by gunfire, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said.
As Snowling exited, “In a very casual, at the hip kind of way,” he shot Dave Stretch and Ed Means, fellow band member Mark Johnson told KCAL/9. They would survive.
Snowling then went out the back, to the upper parking lot to retrieve a 12-gauge shotgun from his truck.
“At that time, an individual went up to encounter the suspect,” Barnes said without further describing the confrontation. “He was shot.”
That man died in the parking lot.
The sheriff identified one of the deceased victims as 67-year-old John Leehey of Irvine.
Leehey was the principal urban planner for JML Planning Consultancy in Irvine. His LinkedIn profile says he helped develop master-planned communities, including Ladera Ranch. Leehey had an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a master’s from Harvard University. The Chargers and Clippers fan enjoyed playing golf.
“He is also a decent blues and folk guitar player, and always good for a spot harmonica tune when asked,” the profile says.
The identities of the other two who died had not been announced as of early Thursday evening.
The first of 100 deputies arrived at 7:06, two minutes after being dispatched. They did not immediately find John Snowling, so they split up.
“Despite the great danger, they progressed and encountered the individual,” Barnes said.
When they did find him in that upper parking lot, Snowling unloaded his shotgun at them, striking patrol vehicles and sending a bullet through a deputy’s windshield. Deputies returned fire, killing him.
OCFA Engine 42 arrived at 7:09, four minutes after being dispatched, Division Chief Cheyne Maule said. Deputies soon sent them in to treat the wounded, including John Snowling, who was pronounced dead there as well.
In the meantime, Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo had activated its trauma backup system, which alerted surgeons, nurses and other staff to descend on the hospital, said Tetsuya Takeuchi, the head of the trauma team.
Marie Snowling — whose father-figure friend had been misinformed that she died — was among the six surviving shooting victims transported to the hospital.
OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer said the actions of the deputies appeared to be “nothing less than heroic.”
“They were taking fire, they didn’t back down, they did what they were trained to do,” Spitzer said. “And for God’s sake, I am so grateful.”
Investigators recovered .380 pistol, a .38-caliber five-shot revolver, a .22-caliber pistol and the shotgun, Barnes said.
All, the sheriff said, were legally owned.
Staff Writers Scott Schwebke and Destiny Torres contributed to this report.
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