The terrorism attack here orphaned a baby. Her parents were the killers.
The child, born on May 21, is in the custody of San Bernardino County child protective services – her precise whereabouts undisclosed, though presumably she is with a foster family.
At an age when a baby typically learns to crawl and can understand words, if not yet manage to speak them, the girl is at the center of a court case that will determine who will raise her.
Her parents, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, died in a frenzied gun battle on Dec. 2, four hours after going on a rampage that killed 14 people and wounded nearly two dozen others. Investigators believe the pair had other targets in mind, possibly a school or college, in addition to the attack at the Inland Regional Center.
They left the baby with Farook’s mother, Rafia Farook, at the couple’s home in a quiet neighborhood in Redlands, Calif. Rafia Farook moved in with her son and daughter-in-law in June after selling her home in Riverside. She initiated divorce proceedings against Farook’s father, who is also named Syed Farook, and they are legally separated.
Saira Khan, the baby’s aunt — the older sister of Farook — is seeking, along with husband Farhan Khan, custody of the baby.
The Khans live in a ranch-style home on a cul-de-sac in a well-tended subdivision in La Sierra, a community between Corona and Riverside. They have a 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. On Sunday, Farhan Khan emerged from his home to speak to a man from a garage-door repair company who was working on his garage. He politely declined to grant an interview to two reporters who briefly stopped by.
“I’ve already said too much,” he said, and referred questions to an attorney. The attorney did not respond to messages.
The family members have said in interviews, and via statements made by their lawyers, that they were completely unaware that Farook and Malik had been radicalized and intended to carry out a terrorist attack.
In an interview with ABC News, Saira Khan said of her brother, “At this time I feel like he had a double life.” She expressed anguish about the terror attack, and said of her brother and sister-in-law, “How can he leave his only child, you know? And how could the mother do this?”
She said she and her husband could give the orphaned baby “a stable upbringing.”
“For the time being, we want her to enjoy her innocence,” she told ABC News. “You know, we don’t want her to know everything, but I think eventually she will find out probably on her own.”
The family members have been interviewed extensively by the FBI since the Dec. 2 attack. They have also been besieged by reporters and TV camera crews — at Farook’s brother’s condo in Corona the business cards of journalists were piling up at the entrance.
At the Corona mosque where Khan and his wife are active members, Yousuf Bhaghani, the director of the mosque’s board, said of Farhan Khan, “He wants his life back where he can be a normal American man living the American Dream.”
Mostafa Mahboob, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles who has been handling media requests for the family, said the family doesn’t want to give interviews right now because they’re in the middle of the custody case.
CAIR released a statement after a custody hearing last Monday:
“The family is naturally distraught at the separation and are eagerly awaiting to obtain custody of the six-month-old girl. CAIR-LA is working to make sure that the baby is placed with a Muslim foster family while she remains in the custody of San Bernardino County Child Protective Services. It is also working with the family to ensure that the child is swiftly reunited with her family.”
C.L. Lopez, a spokeswoman for San Bernardino County Children and Family Services, said the agency cannot comment on the case.
Richard Wexler, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, expressed concern about the baby’s welfare as long as she is separated from her relatives. The first preference in a case with an orphaned child is placement with a relative, because kinship care is safer, and more humane and stable, he said.
“It shouldn’t be taking them this long,” Wexler said about the decision where to place the infant. “What’s taking so long is the fear of public backlash. There frankly shouldn’t be an issue unless there is strong evidence the relatives were involved with the plot.”
In a typical situation the child would stay with the grandmother who had already been caring for her. If the grandmother did not pass a background check – in this case she lived with her son and daughter-in-law in a home that, according to authorities, had guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and material for making nearly two dozen pipe bombs – the baby could be placed with another relative, Wexler said.
“You have an infant who has no idea what is going on,” Wexler said. “All she knows is that the people she counted on for love and nurturing are gone. … Being removed from parents is traumatic for any child, and the younger the child, the greater the trauma. The trauma is compounded when the placement is with strangers, and compounded again if the child is moved from home to home, as often happens when children are placed with strangers.”