01:39 - Source: CNN
Redlands, California reels from horrific attack

Story highlights

"It could happen anywhere at this point, if it could happen in Redlands," Ashley Williams says of attackers

Once proud town of Redlands, storied in local history, now reels as attackers made their home there

Redlands, California CNN  — 

Town native Ashley Williams resisted at first how a global scourge – radicalization and terror – apparently arrived to her small community on the desert fringes of Los Angeles.

As fate would have it, Williams has held balcony view of the townhouse rented by Syed Rizwan Farook and wife Tashfeen Malik, who lived down the street. The couple massacred 14 people and injured 21 others in nearby San Bernardino this week. Police later killed the pair in a shootout.

While investigators seek a motive for the bloodshed, more details emerged about Farook, 28. It appears he was radicalized and was in touch with more than one terrorism subject the FBI was investigating, law enforcement sources said.

When told of this, Williams seemed momentarily stunned as she stood outside the condo she shares with her husband and their month-old son, Ellis.

She was born and raised in Redlands, and has lived here almost all her life. She only left briefly to go to college in Florida, where she met her husband.

‘Scary. Really scary’

Williams’ second-story balcony overlooks the Farook home from a distance. She can’t count how often she has strolled by it with her dog.

“Scary. Really scary,” Williams said. “It could happen anywhere at this point, if it could happen in Redlands.”

Many residents privately wondered if there would be a connection to radicalization, but they dreaded making such ties. They didn’t want the killers’ names to prejudice them.

“I just hate to have it where people think that there was that connection. I was just hoping there wasn’t,” retired social worker Maxine Nacsin said, walking past a yellow police tape cordoning off the street where Farook and his wife lived.

Added neighbor Richard Lopez, a custodian at local college: “It’s so close to home. You wouldn’t expect this to happen.”

Indeed, this isn’t supposed to be the town’s claim to fame.

Redlands, locals say, is one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets, where families have lived for generations in affordable housing. It’s a cozy bedroom community where condos are for sale for as low as $130,000.

Roughly midway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate Highway 10, Redlands holds a storied role in agriculture: It was “at the heart of the largest navel orange producing region in the world” for 75 years between the late 1800s to the late 1950s, the city’s website says.

And it’s home to California’s oldest high school still on its original site, since 1891, the school says. Last March, Redlands High’s varsity cheer and mascot squads even won the 2015 USA Spirit National Championships.

Makings of a bomb lab

Now residents live in fear.

Many are afraid to give their names to visiting reporters. In fact, Williams asked that her maiden name be used. And residents prefer to stay indoors at night and lock their windows and doors when they hear police helicopters conducting a search.

The long-timers here find it especially hard to fathom how their community of 70,000 is now on the international map for something so horrific.

It was Redlands that Farook and his wife returned to in their SUV after the attacks seven miles away in San Bernardino.

But the couple instead found police outside their home.

A chase ensued, then a shootout, then the couple’s death in a shootout with officers.

Inside Farook’s home, authorities later found 12 pipe bombs, the tools to make them, and lots of ammunition – enough to prompt one FBI assistant director to declare that “there was obviously a mission here” but “we do not know why.”

This apparent bomb lab was in an enclave of winding streets and two-story structures of townhouses and condominiums with big courtyards and tall trees, evoking the bygone charm of a suburb built after World War II.

Farook and his wife also left behind their six-month-old girl in the care of a grandmother before they committed the attacks, telling the relative they had a doctor’s appointment. They never returned.

‘I would just say why?’

Kim Blaylock, 49, is a third-generation resident of Redlands raised just a block from the Farook home.

In fact, her parents still live in that same house 46 years later, and her uncle lives right across the street from the Farooks.

Like many residents interviewed, however, Blaylock and her family didn’t know Farook and his wife.

“If the perpetrators were here right now, I would just say why?” Blaylock said. “Why would you want to leave your child and go hurt other people, hurt your family and devastate more people, have your full life gone? It’s just very sad.”

She gestured toward the Farook residence a half block away where FBI agents were working inside.

“Across the street, the people who drove to San Bernardino and shot people lived in our neighborhood and my parents’ neighborhood, and it’s devastating for their families and for our community,” Blaylock said.

She found it difficult to speak of Redlands’ loss of innocence.

“I want this world not to have this,” Blaylock said. “It’s so scary to walk out your front door, and I don’t want that. I just want peace.”

For all the loss, Blaylock couldn’t utter a bad word about Farook and Malik.

“I don’t like to convict and slander people,” she said. “I don’t want to judge people, especially when I don’t know them.”

Long lineages

Tradition often runs deep in Redlands.

Blaylock’s maternal grandmother was born here in 1909 and went to work in a packing house for the endless orange groves whose blossoms perfumed the land. The downtown streets are named Orange and Citrus, with colorful murals of that history.

Her paternal grandmother was born in Redlands in 1921 and began a long line of family graduates from Redlands High beginning with the grandmother’s diploma in the 1940s: Blaylock’s both parents were in the class of 1961; Blaylock herself, 1984; and now her older daughter in the class of 2015.

Blaylock’s younger daughter, Caitlin, is now a junior and will be part of the class of 2017, more than 100 years after her maternal great-grandmother began the family’s genealogy here.

‘There’s hardly anyone at school’

Even for the youngsters such as 16-year-old Caitlin Blaylock, the San Bernardino killings and the attackers’ connection to Redlands instilled strong fears.

On Thursday, only nine of 35 students were present in Caitlin’s first period class, and the high absences continued in subsequent periods, she said.

On the day of the shootings in San Bernardino, Redlands High went in a level-one lockdown, and classroom lights were turned off.

Thursday’s attendance reflected the trauma of the day before.

“There’s hardly anyone at school,” Caitlin said.

She asked her mother to pick her up from school at lunchtime.

“I was scared,” Caitlin said. “My stomach was aching all day.”

Classmate Alliah Smith, 17, was also taken out of school at lunchtime, and she found it “scary just to see no one there and how it affected people,” she said.

The two youngsters struggled to understand how two parents – who are supposed to be role models – would commit such a slaughter and leave behind their baby.

“When that baby grows up, people are going to say your parents are the ones who hurt people’s families. People are going to hate on it, and that’s not fair,” Alliah said.

Smith asked a darker question about potential terror.

“Since they already hit us, is it going to stop?” she said. “Or now that they killed them, is it going to continue?”

How residents move forward

For now, residents recover from Redlands’ disturbing chapter in different ways.

Williams and her husband are selling their condominium and will move to Yucaipa, a plan that was in the works prior to this week’s attacks in San Bernardino.

High school juniors Caitlin and Alliah, however, are members of this year’s varsity cheer team and are hoping that the practice turnout is better than this week’s school attendance.

That’s because the cheer team is scheduled to compete in a regional contest in Chino Hills in order to qualify for the national tournament again in March.

“We don’t want this affecting us,” Alliah says of the attackers’ legacy.

“Even though it is,” Caitlin added.

They are nonetheless determined to bring another national title to Redlands.

Complete coverage of the San Bernardino massacre