Trabuco Canyon gunman was retired Ventura police sergeant who 1st shot his wife at bar

Among the wounded victims was the gunman's estranged wife, who was shot in the facial area, authorities said.

ByTony Cabrera, David González, Tim Pulliam, and staff KABC logo
Friday, August 25, 2023
Here's what we know about Trabuco Canyon gunman John Snowling
John Snowling, the gunman who killed three people and injured six at a Trabuco Canyon bar, was a retired police sergeant going through a divorce with his wife.

TRABUCO CANYON, Calif. (KABC) -- A retired Ventura police sergeant has been identified as the gunman who killed three people and wounded six others at a Trabuco Canyon bar and then was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies.

Suspect John Snowling, 59, worked for the Ventura Police Department from July 1986 through February 2014.

He was going through a divorce with his wife and she was the first victim of his shooting rampage at Cook's Corner, Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday.

"He walked directly to her," Barnes said. "There was not a discussion, dialogue or argument. He immediately fired upon her, striking her once."

His wife, who lives in the city of Orange, survived the shooting and was said to be conscious and speaking at the hospital. Her adult son was able to visit her there.

Snowling also shot a woman that his wife was dining with, hitting her once. The woman was able to stagger outside and get to the roadway, but collapsed and was later pronounced dead, Barnes said.

MORE COVERAGE: What we know about Trabuco Canyon gunman John Snowling

John Snowling, the gunman who killed three people and injured six at a Trabuco Canyon bar, was a retired police sergeant going through a divorce with his wife.

He then started firing randomly at other patrons inside the bar and then went outside and shot others there as well, including a man who apparently tried to confront him.

He headed to his truck and retrieved two more weapons, a handgun and a shotgun.

At that point, deputies arrived and confronted him, fatally shooting him. Seven deputies were involved in that encounter and none of them were injured.

Investigators later recovered four weapons: a .380 pistol, .38 revolver, .25 pistol and a shotgun. Barnes said Snowling had legally acquired all four.

Sheriff's investigators say there were no restraining orders or allegations of domestic violence between the couple.

The attorney representing John Snowling in the divorce agreed there were no warning signs.

"There was certainly no red flag that anything like this would happen," attorney Tristan Tegroen told Eyewitness News. "No one ever disussed restraining orders or domestic violence or anything like that."

The name of one victim who died in the shooting has been released - John M. Leehey, 67, of Irvine. The names of the other victims have not been released yet.

What happened at the Cook's Corner biker bar?

The shooting happened Wednesday evening at Cook's Corner, a well-known biker bar and grill on Santiago Canyon Road.

Five people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and a sixth person was hospitalized with a non-gunshot injury, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Among the wounded survivors was Snowling's estranged wife, who was shot in the facial area.

Officials with Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo say the facility received and treated six patients in connection with the incident. Two were described as being in critical condition and four were stable.

Sheriff's officials confirmed that deputies were on the scene within two minutes of the first emergency call, and two minutes after that were involved in a shooting that left the suspect dead. No deputies were injured.

WATCH: Witnesses recount terrifying scenes at Orange County mass shooting

Witnesses are recalling the sounds of gunfire and sights of injured victims after a mass shooting at the Cook's Corner bar in Trabuco Canyon.

The initial call about the shooting at Cook's Corner came in at 7:04 p.m., according to OCSD Sgt. Frank Gonzalez. By 7:06 p.m., deputies had arrived at the bar.

"About 7:08 p.m. our deputies contacted a male subject who was armed with a gun," Gonzalez said. "A deputy-involved shooting occurred and the male subject was pronounced deceased at the scene."

On Wednesday night, the Orange County Sheriff's Department said it was looking into reports that the suspect shot his wife at the bar.

"This tragic incident weighs heavy on our community and the first responders, and our hearts go out to all those involved," said Chief Brian Fennessy with the Orange County Fire Authority.

What witnesses saw at Cook's Corner

One witness indicated the shooter was confronted by the deputies after he went outside to his truck, apparently to reload.

"He came in, he went back to reload and bring more guns and the cops found him," the woman said. "I'm glad I didn't die. He shot four or six at me and missed."

Nelson Rosales said he was heading to Cook's Corner on his motorcycle when he was flagged down by a motorist a short distance from the bar. He stopped, thinking she needed help with her vehicle.

"The lady told me don't go to the bar, they're shooting," Rosales recalled. "Sure enough seconds later I hear the shots fired. I see people walking out the bar. Saw a couple bodies drop."

WATCH: OC mass shooter went to his truck 'to reload and bring more guns,' witness says

A witness to the Cooks Corner mass shooting said the gunman went back to his truck "to reload and bring more guns" but that's when deputies took him down.

"I called 911, they told me they already had deputies on the way. As soon as the deputies rolled up, he started unloading on them as well. They returned fire. I ducked for cover."

He said he believed the shooter was armed with a long rifle. Investigators confirmed they recovered at least one weapon at the scene.

FBI and ATF agents were also responding to the scene to assist with the investigation.

What is the Cook's Corner biker bar?

Cook's Corner is a popular and well-known hangout for motorcycle enthusiasts with a history that dates back more than a century. Andrew Jackson Cook acquired the Orange County property in the late 1800s. It opened as a restaurant in 1926 and then sold alcohol after Prohibition ended.

The Cook family sold the bar in the 1970s.

Prior to the shooting, customers had gathered Wednesday to enjoy the bar's regular Spaghetti Night Special. It wasn't immediately known how many people were inside the bar when the gunfire erupted, but sheriff's investigators were interviewing 30 to 40 witnesses.

How many mass shootings has the country seen this year?

According to data from the Gun Violence Archive - which defines a mass shooting as four or more people injured or killed, not including the perpetrator - there have been 465 mass shootings so far this year in the U.S. and 682 over the past 12 months.

That's the second highest count in a 12-month period, after the 689 reported in 2021.