By EUGENE GARCIA, AMY TAXIN and JOHN ANTCZAK (Associated Press)
TRABUCO CANYON, Calif. (AP) — The retired police sergeant who opened fire at a popular Southern California biker bar on a lively Wednesday night had traveled from Ohio to confront his estranged wife, shooting her in the face before he pointed his gun at the crowd, authorities said.
John Snowling killed three people, including his wife’s table neighbor and a man who approached him as Snowling was removing more guns from his truck, and injured six others, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday. A few minutes after the killing spree, he was fatally shot by police officers.
The shooting happened as a cover band entertained patrons during the bar’s popular weekly spaghetti night. Snowling entered the bar, approached Marie Snowling and immediately shot her without saying a word, authorities said. Some patrons froze and others ran as bullets flew into the bar before Snowling headed to the parking lot and continued firing, witnesses and authorities said.
When the shooting began, M Street band keyboardist Mark Johnson was hiding behind a loudspeaker with his wife, singer Debbie Johnson.
“Once he started shooting, it was very random,” said Mark Johnson.
Snowling, 59, was a retired police sergeant with the Ventura Police Department in Southern California. His wife Marie Snowling filed for divorce in December 2022, citing irreconcilable differences. The case was ongoing and the case was scheduled for a mandatory settlement conference in November.
They have been married for more than three decades and have two adult children.
Officials said John Snowling arrived from Ohio, where he lived with his dog on a 7-acre property, according to his divorce attorney Tristan teGroen. It was unclear when he arrived in Southern California, where he still owns land in Camarillo. There was “no murmuring about domestic violence, threats or anything like that” from the other attorney, teGroen said.
John Snowling used two guns early in the shooting and then retrieved two more from his truck. All four — three handguns and a shotgun — were legally purchased, Barnes said.
Authorities identified one of the dead as John Leehey, 67, of Irvine, California. The other two were not named, including the woman who dined with Marie Snowling. After being shot, the woman exited the bar and made it onto the street before dying, Barnes said.
All nine people shot were adults. Marie Snowling was conscious and speaking but remained hospitalized Thursday, Barnes said.
William Mosby of Lake Forest, a father figure to Marie Snowling, told The Orange County Register that John Snowling “can’t handle the divorce.”
Kenneth HJ Henjum, Marie Snowling’s attorney, said in an email that her family was in shock and asked for privacy.
John Snowling worked for the Ventura Coast Police Department, northwest of Los Angeles, from 1986 to 2014. Ventura Police Chief Darin Schindler issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the victims, survivors and first responders.
Cook’s Corner has long been a gathering place for motorcyclists to enjoy bands, open mic nights or just a cold beer after a long ride. Billing itself as the oldest motorcycle bar in Southern California, it’s located at the intersection of two scenic highways in an area of scrubby hills and bike paths. It attracts everyone from motorcyclists on choppers to avid cyclists in lycra to families with young children.
“It’s Disneyland for bikers,” said Kamran Amiri, who has been a regular at Cook’s Corner for two decades.
Amiri, who was there on Wednesday but left before the shooting, said the bar is “packed with the friendliest people” who go there to chat over drinks, listen to music or show off their bikes.
Hours before the shooting, rows of motorcycles and bicycles lined the gravel entrance.
M Street had previously performed outdoors at Cook’s Corner, but this was the band’s first time taking the stage indoors, said Mark and Debbie Johnson.
Two people in the crowd were celebrating birthdays and the band promised a special song later that night, Debbie Johnson said.
It never came.
“We started our next song and somewhere in the middle this man walked in, didn’t say a word and just started shooting,” she said.
Some traders ran up a nearby hill.
Mark Johnson said as soon as the gunman went outside, he and about 30 others closed the doors and hid inside. Johnson called 911.
“We opened the back gate to see where he was and he immediately started shooting,” he said.
He and his wife said two of their bandmates were injured and are expected to survive. The fifth member was not injured.
“I’ve never been happier to see dozens of police cars coming my way,” Debbie Johnson said. “We were fish in a very small barrel.”
This story has been updated to correct that William Mosby is Marie Snowling’s father figure to Snowling and not her actual father.
Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California and Antczak from Los Angeles. Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/08/25/retired-police-sergeant-who-killed-3-at-california-bar-shot-his-estranged-wife-first-officials-say/ A retired police sergeant who killed three people at a California bar first shot his estranged wife, officials say – Twin Cities