SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Gun charges will be announced Thursday against Enrique Marquez, who bought the assault rifles used in a deadly Dec. 2 attack here, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.
It is not clear whether Marquez has been arrested yet. But the 24-year-old has been at the center of the extensive federal investigation of the massacre carried out by his former neighbor, Syed Rizwan Farook, and Farook’s Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Malik.
Authorities have said Marquez purchased two assault rifles in 2011 and 2012 that were used in the shooting that killed 14 people. The charges against him could include knowingly making a false statement in connection with the purchase of a firearm, a crime that carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, according to senior law enforcement officials.
Law enforcement authorities searched Marquez’s home on Dec. 5, three days after the deadliest terrorist assault on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, Marquez was not charged with a crime, and officials said he was cooperating with the investigation.
The charges against Marquez are expected to be announced at a news conference here later Thursday.
Two days before his Riverside home was raided, Marquez had posted a garbled message on Facebook: “I’m. Very sorry sguys. It was a pleasure.” When he didn’t show up for work the next day as a doorman at a pirate-themed neighborhood bar, his co-workers began to worry.
The co-workers feared that he may have become suicidal. In fact, he had checked himself into a mental-health facility sometime in the immediate aftermath of the shooting rampage.
Two U.S. law enforcement officials told The Washington Post that Marquez had been drinking heavily when he admitted himself into the facility at UCLA.
One of the officials added that the FBI is trying to determine whether Marquez was “grandstanding” during his interviews with the FBI. Agents have been trying to corroborate his statements. The official said authorities are trying to gauge whether Marquez is a reliable “narrator” of the time he spent with Farook.
According to officials, Marquez told the FBI that he and Farook had discussed mounting some sort of attack in 2012, but that he got spooked after a terrorism investigation based in Riverside resulted in the arrest of four local men in November of that year for plotting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. The men were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.
Agents have been investigating whether those men or any of their associates — or the FBI’s confidential informant in that case — had contact with Farook or Marquez. Lawyers involved in the case said they were unaware of a direct connection. On Wednesday, FBI Director James B. Comey said there was no evidence that Farook had any connections to those men.
It is not clear whether Farook and Marquez chose a specific target or time to carry out the attack they had discussed, the officials said. The FBI is investigating whether the rifles Marquez bought were intended for use in the planned 2012 attack, the officials said.
If they were — or if Marquez knew at the time when he transferred the rifles to Farook that they were going to be used for a violent act — he could be charged with a federal felony, law enforcement officials told The Washington Post last week. Authorities said previously that they do not think Marquez had any direct knowledge of the later plot by Farook and Malik.
Marquez is literally the boy next door in this unfolding narrative: He lived for many years with his family in a one-story beige house directly next to Farook. Both attended La Sierra High School in Riverside, but several years apart. Neighbors say the two young men would spend hours at a time dismantling and repairing cars on the driveway of Farook’s house.
Marquez converted to Islam several years ago and for a time worshiped at a mosque in Corona.
Yousuf Bhaghani, president of the board of the mosque, said Marquez attended about four years ago but then stopped coming. “Some people made the comment that he was goofy,” he said.
Scores of police officers and federal agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service have been methodically piecing together the history of Farook, Malik, Marquez and any associates who may have known anything about the couple and their terrorist plot.
Investigators think that the Inland Regional Center, where Farook and Malik attacked Farook’s co-workers at a holiday gathering, was not their main target. The attack lasted four minutes, in which the shooters fired off 65 to 75 rounds and then fled in a rented SUV.
The shooters potentially could have killed many more in the building if that was their only target. They had more than 1,600 rounds in their vehicle when they were killed in a gun battle with police. They had thousands more rounds of ammunition at their house, as well as material that could be used to make bombs. And there was an unsuccessful attempt to modify one weapon to make it shoot automatically, law enforcement officials said.
Sometime after Marquez stopped attending the Corona mosque, he and Farook began talking about an attack of some kind — and that’s when Marquez bought the assault rifles, which were legally purchased, authorities have said. Marquez never filled out paperwork transferring ownership to Farook as required by law, and it is unclear when he gave Farook the weapons.
Marquez’s family has declined multiple requests for interviews, but his mother, Armida Chacon, briefly talked to reporters last week, becoming distraught as she described her son as “a good person.” The home still showed damage from a post-midnight police raid on the weekend after the shooting, when investigators broke into the garage and seized property thought to be related to the case. A piece of broken wallboard was propped up by the mailbox as a sign with a polite request for people stay off the property.
California law states that transferring gun ownership from one person to another must be done by a registered dealer. Exemptions include transfers from a parent to an adult child or transfers between spouses.
There is no record that Marquez legally transferred the guns to Farook or Malik, according to federal law enforcement sources.
If Marquez knew about a plot and aided it, experts say, he could face charges of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act or conspiracy to commit murder — with a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
The most basic case against him, however, would be for violating gun laws, experts said.
Goldman and Bever reported from Washington. Joel Achenbach and Julie Tate contributed to this report, which has been updated.