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Marie Snowling went to Cook’s Corner on Wednesday night as she often did, to enjoy the live band and the $8 all-you-can-eat spaghetti special.

Around 7 p.m., the patio of the Trabuco Canyon bar and eatery was filled with families tucking into big plates of food. At the bar, people drank beer and waited for M Street, a five-piece Orange County rock band, to begin its set.

That was when her estranged husband, 59-year-old John Snowling, a retired police sergeant, walked directly toward her and immediately opened fire, authorities said.

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“There was not a discussion, dialogue or an argument,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday. Barnes said Snowling used two weapons — pistols or revolvers — in the shooting, at times targeting people randomly.

The shooter apparently did not know his victims apart from his wife and the friend with whom she was dining, who was also shot, Barnes said.

People dived behind furniture and speakers and ran toward the kitchen. Marie Snowling was struck once in the jaw and survived. Three people were killed, and five others were wounded. One person was killed inside the bar, the other two — a man and a woman — outside.

Barnes said Snowling left the bar and went to his truck, where he grabbed a shotgun. Deputies raced up to confront him and shot him dead. “The deputies responded in two minutes. So all this happened within 120 seconds,” the sheriff added.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said seven deputies fired at Snowling, and that 75 shell casings from law enforcement weapons had been recovered.

“Those deputy sheriffs took the action that was necessary to take out the suspect, to stop the danger, to use their training and to make sure that the suspect could do no more harm,” Spitzer said.

Though investigators believe Snowling was targeting his wife, they are still trying to determine his motive.

Authorities identified one of the people killed in the shooting as John Leehey, 67, of Irvine, but the two others were not publicly identified.

About 7:07 p.m., an emergency dispatcher broadcast an alert on the California Highway Patrol radio channel: “Male came in and started shooting. Eight shots were fired. White male. Plaid shirt and jeans. Still shooting. Possibly active shooter.”

One of the patrons at the bar, Betty Fruichantie, posted a video of the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook. The video shows a woman being wheeled away on a stretcher.

“Oh my God, Marie,” Fruichantie says.

In Facebook remarks, Fruichantie said she had been sharing a table with Marie Snowling when the gunman appeared. She said he fired at Snowling four to six times and missed but did strike her once in the face. Fruichantie said she didn’t recognize the gunman but later learned it was Snowling’s estranged husband.

Mark Johnson, the M Street band pianist, said two of his band mates — guitarist Ed Means and bassist Dave Stretch — had been shot but were in stable condition at a hospital.

Orange County sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant at Snowling’s Camarillo home Thursday morning.

Snowling began work at the Ventura Police Department in 1986 and retired as a sergeant in 2014, after stints in the traffic division and as a homeless-liaison officer. He was president of the city’s police union in 2008 and 2009.

In the early 2000s, Snowling patrolled Pacific View Mall and touted the shopping center’s safety. “This isn’t L.A., where we have shootings and stabbings,” he told a reporter.

Retired officers who leave the force in good standing are legally allowed to carry concealed firearms nationwide, owing to the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.

With some caveats, officers automatically receive a concealed carry weapons license after retirement, said Ed Obayashi, an attorney and Plumas County sheriff’s deputy who advises law enforcement departments statewide.

The Snowlings had two grown children and were in the midst of a divorce.

James Goldsmith, 68, the couple’s longtime neighbor in Camarillo, would often see Marie Snowling walking her dog.

He said she was the social one of the couple and an “absolute sweetheart,” while her husband was “a standoffish kind of person” and seemed controlling.

“He wasn’t the most personable guy, not that I can say that there was anything really negative,” Goldsmith said. “He wasn’t the type of neighbor that you’d get the warm fuzzies from.”

John and Marie Snowling married in 1988 and separated in 2020, though she did not file for divorce until last December, citing “irreconcilable differences.” The divorce file contained no allegations of abuse. He was served with divorce papers in Newark, Ohio, in February and had not yet responded to her petition.

“I think it reached a point where it felt like life was passing her by because he didn’t want to do anything,” Goldsmith said. “He would barely maintain the house. I think she wanted to have friends and live life, and that’s why I think she made the move that she did. It’s sad that he couldn’t allow that and let her live her own life.”

Goldsmith said Marie Snowling moved to Orange County to be with her sick mother, and that her husband had been spending most of his time in Ohio, where he’d purchased a house.

Tristan Tegroen, the attorney representing John Snowling in the divorce, said the proceeding had been decidedly “low-key.” Embittered spouses often trade allegations of abuse as they battle over alimony and property, but in the Snowling divorce “there was nothing like that,” he said.

Marie Snowling had been living in a mobile home park in Orange after her mother’s death, said Mary Talian, 82, one of Snowling’s neighbors.

Talian said she looked out her window all night Wednesday waiting for her to come home. She knew she liked spaghetti night at Cook’s Corner.

“She loved to be around people, around music, and she loved to go out and eat as much spaghetti as she could,” Talian said.

Talian’s daughter, Carol Franke, said Snowling recently took over as manager of the mobile home park.

“The first words out of her mouth are always, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are the kids?’ She never talked about herself,” Franke said. “Marie celebrated other people’s wins. That’s just who she is.”

Denise Craft, 59, one of Marie Snowling’s neighbors, said that she knew about the divorce and that Marie’s estranged husband had taken custody of their dog. Snowling also told her that he was being very sweet lately, but she didn’t know why.

“I told her to be cautious about that,” Craft said.

Cook’s Corner sits at the junction of El Toro, Santiago Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads. Reached by a winding road through the hills, it’s popular with motorcycle riders and also advertises itself as a family-friendly eatery.

Erwin Lima, 54, has detailed motorcycles at Cook’s Corner for years. He said Marie Snowling came most weekends to enjoy the live music, sometimes bringing her own chair so she had a place to sit on crowded nights.

On Thursday morning, Lima stood outside police tape blocking the two-lane road that leads to the popular roadside spot, concern etched on his face. He had driven to the bar hoping to learn anything he could about the condition of his co-workers and friends.

“I couldn’t believe it when I started getting calls,” he said. “My body just shut down.”

Reacting to the shooting, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged people to use the state’s “red flag” laws, which allow victims of domestic violence and others to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

“As we continue to learn more details about this act of violence, there are early reports that this horror was related to a domestic dispute,” Newsom said in a statement. “This type of trauma is unfortunately not isolated. Two-thirds of mass shooters in America have a history of domestic violence.”

Providence Mission Hospital said Thursday it treated six gunshot victims. Two were in critical condition, one of them a man who had been shot in the chest, and the other a woman — Snowling — who had been shot in the jaw and then transferred to UCI Medical Center in Orange.

The four other gunshot patients were in stable condition, and three had gone home or were likely to go home Thursday.

Longtime Cook’s Corner patron Gus Gunderman, 60, who left the bar Wednesday night just before the shooting started, said he has never seen a fight there in the four decades he has been coming.

“This could have happened anywhere,” Gunderman sad. “It has nothing to do with motorcycles or motorcycle culture.”

Times staff writers Christopher Goffard, Jeremy Childs, Christian Martinez, Connor Sheets, Grace Toohey, Summer Lin, Terry Castleman, Noah Goldberg, Julia Wick and Libor Jany contributed to this report.


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