LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ryan Guidus was enjoying a spontaneous night out Wednesday with his 7-month-old daughter and mother-in-law at Cook’s Corner, a favorite family spot in Southern California that he’s frequented since his own childhood, when gunshots rang out.
First, he thought it was fireworks. But when screaming began and more shots followed, the bar’s popular weekly spaghetti night turned into every parent’s worst nightmare as a retired police sergeant opened fire.
“I just reached into the stroller and ejected my daughter out of that thing, ripped her out of there as fast as I could,” Guidus told The Associated Press on Friday. “It was all a blur, it happened so fast.”
Clutching baby Olive to his chest, Guidus sprinted from the bar’s patio to the back of the property where other patrons were hiding among the hillside trees along an embankment. When more shots erupted, the 36-year-old father handed Olive to a man next to him and jumped 10 feet (3.05 meters) down before grabbing her back.
Mountain bikers, finishing up a ride in the area, then helped him navigate the brush, one lifting a tree branch for him and his mother-in-law to crawl under, as they escaped to a nearby parking lot. He borrowed another mountain biker’s cellphone — he’d dropped his own in the stroller — to call his wife and his parents.
Only then did the baby start crying. It was nearing bedtime, and she was hungry for a bottle.
“I can’t stop hugging and kissing her,” Guidus said. “I obviously pray to God that she doesn’t remember this. I assume she won’t.”
Authorities said John Snowling killed three people Wednesday, including his wife’s dining companion and a man who approached him as Snowling retrieved additional guns from his truck, and wounded six others. Snowling was fatally shot by deputies within minutes of the rampage.
Snowling, 59, was a retired police sergeant with the Ventura Police Department in Southern California. His wife, Marie Snowling, had filed for divorce in December 2022, citing irreconcilable differences. The proceedings were ongoing and the case was scheduled for a mandatory settlement conference in November.
Authorities identified the fatally shot victims as John Leehey, 67, of Irvine, California; Tonya Clark, 49, of Scottsdale, Arizona; and Glen Sprowl Jr., 53, of Stanton, California.
Clark was celebrating her 49th birthday at the bar, the Orange County Register reported.
Sprowl had worked as a truck driver and a bouncer, his uncle Bob Herrick told the paper. He was the man who approached Snowling in the parking lot as Snowling went to his truck to gather more guns, the paper reported.
Authorities have not provided more details about the interaction between the two men.
Leehey, an urban planner, previously worked at architecture firm Danielian Associates, which offered its condolences to his family on Friday.
“John was a bright star and a respected industry leader,” the company wrote in a Facebook post. “His career path in land planning and landscape design took him all over the world, including time with us at Danielian.”
A vigil was held Friday evening at Saddleback Church in nearby Lake Forest.
Officials said John Snowling traveled from Ohio, where he had been living on a 7-acre property with his dog, according to his divorce lawyer, Tristan teGroen. It was unclear when he arrived in Southern California, where he still owns property in Camarillo.
The sheriff’s department hasn’t given more details about Snowling’s motive.
For Guidus, Cook’s Corner is a family tradition. The bar is where he took his now-wife on their first date. It’s where her family joins them some Sundays, and where he and his mother-in-law grabbed a drink on Wednesday while his wife was at work. Olive, wearing shorts and a tiny “bikes over Barbies” T-shirt that night, escaped with just a scratch on her arm from the brush.
Guidus said he and his family will return to Cook’s Corner as soon as it reopens in support of their favorite hangout.
“I’ve been going to Cook’s since I was 3 years old, with my parents on the back of their motorcycle,” he said. “It’s a landmark, it’s a place that we love to visit.”