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Orange County mass shooter identified as ex-cop targeting estranged wife, sources say

Law enforcement officers investigate the scene of the shooting. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A gunman who officials say killed three people and wounded six others Wednesday night at a landmark biker bar in Trabuco Canyon was a former police officer, according to officials.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer identified the gunman as John Snowling, who was a retired sergeant from the Ventura Police Department. Snowling was targeting his estranged wife in the shooting, who was reportedly a regular at the bar, according to two law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The gunman was also killed, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department posted on social media.

Sheriff’s officials received a 911 call just after 7 p.m. about the shooting at the Cook’s Corner bar on Santiago Canyon Road. The first deputies arrived within two minutes. Deputies found a man with a gun, and multiple deputies opened fire, officials said.

The six who were injured in the shooting were being treated at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. Two of the patients were in critical condition and four were stable, according to James Chisum, a spokesman for the hospital.

Authorities did not provide details about the identities of the shooting victims.

Law enforcement sources say Snowling’s estranged wife survived being shot and is hospitalized.

It was unclear whether Snowling followed her to the bar before opening fire on the crowd, they said.

The shooting occurred in the middle of $8 Spaghetti Night. Geoffrey Kagy, 52, is a regular at the bar with his girlfriend, Jacqueline Bass. On this night, she was at Cook’s Corner without him — but around 7:30 p.m., she suddenly sent Kagy a volley of text messages. The first said “911,” followed by “Help” and “Omg.” She’d been inside Cook’s Corner when the gunman opened fire.

When they spoke by phone, Kagy said, “she just kept saying how she was running and that she saw somebody shoot.”

The initial 911 caller reported that the gunman had fired six shots, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock said at a late-night news conference Wednesday. Emergency dispatchers reported hearing gunshots in the background of radio traffic as multiple deputies arrived at the bar.

Law enforcement sources told The Times that responding deputies pinned down the retired Ventura police officer by a silver truck, and his body remained next to the truck Wednesday night.

“As you would expect,” Hallock said, “tonight has been a very difficult night for everybody involved in the entire community.

“Cook’s Corner, the location where this tragic incident occurred, is truly a beloved part of the Trabuco Canyon community,” referring to the neighborhood behind the bar.

A longtime motorcycle hangout, Cook’s Corner sits at the juncture of El Toro, Santiago Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads, near O’Neill Regional Park.

M Street — a five-piece Orange County rock band — was scheduled to perform at the bar Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., according to the venue’s online calendar.

The band posted a video to its Instagram page earlier Wednesday evening showing its instruments set up on a small stage in the still empty-looking wood-paneled bar.

News of the shooting brought concern from local officials and residents.

“I’m heartbroken by the news of yet another mass shooting tonight, this time at Cook’s Corner, a historic bar in the heart of Orange County,” state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said in a statement. “My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the victims.”

“It’s disturbing to learn that another domestic dispute led to another mass shooting. We must do more to prevent senseless acts of gun violence and protect survivors,” said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.

Cook’s Corner was named after Andrew Jackson Cook, who got about 190 acres of Aliso Canyon in a land trade in 1884, according to a Times story. His son, Earl Jack “E.J.” Cook, opened a roadside hamburger joint in 1931. Soon after Prohibition ended in 1933, alcohol was added to the menu, and Cook’s Corner became a full-fledged bar. In 1946, Cook bought an old mess hall from the Santa Ana Army Air Base, hauled it up El Toro Road, and the tavern was born.

Motorcycle riders discovered the place in the 1970s, and it has been a popular spot for decades.


© 2023 Los Angeles Times

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