Families and regulars were enjoying heaping plates of pasta and cold beers, listening to a band play Fleetwood Mac’s song “Rhiannon” at Cook’s Corner when a gunman entered the beloved local bar and started shooting.
Terror gripped the crowd, which moments earlier had been boisterous and happy, that Wednesday evening in Trabuco Canyon, witnesses said.
After the chaos settled, with the gunman shot dead by Orange County sheriff’s deputies, three bar patrons would be left dead. On Friday, Orange County sheriff’s officials identified Tonya Clark, 49, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Glen Sprowl Jr., 53, of Stanton as two who were killed at Cook’s Corner during the bar’s famed $8 all-you-can-eat spaghetti night. The third victim, John Leehey, 67, of Irvine, was identified a day earlier.
As soon as he heard gunshots, Lake Forest resident Ryan Guidus, 36, reached down, unlatched his 7-month-old daughter from the stroller, and started running with her in his arms. He and his mother-in-law ran onto the patio and into the nearby bushes and trees.
“It sounded like a war zone, just shots firing everywhere,” Guidus said Friday.
Seconds earlier, the gunman, 59-year-old John Snowling, a retired sergeant from the Ventura Police Department, had walked into the bar and shot his estranged wife, Marie, in the jaw before turning his gun on the woman she was dining with, later identified as Clark, fatally shooting her. He then took aim at patrons in the Orange County restaurant.
“There was not a discussion, dialogue or an argument,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Thursday. Authorities said Snowling used two weapons — pistols or revolvers — in the shooting and had two other firearms in a Ford F-250 truck parked outside. Three people were killed and six, including Marie Snowling, were wounded.
Guidus was hiding with other people who started screaming that the gunman was coming up the other side of Cook’s Corner. Guidus yelled for everyone to keep calm and to stop drawing attention to their hideout.
Guidus was looking for a way out. He asked another diner to hold his daughter as he slid down the side of the nearby ravine where he was assisted by mountain bikers. The man handed Guidus’ baby back to him and he sprinted down the road clutching his infant.
The entire ordeal felt like it went on for 30 minutes, Guidus said, but after he spoke with the officers, he learned the shooting had lasted less than five minutes.
“I ride a motorcycle,” he said. “This is a family place. Cook’s has been there since before I was born and I’ve been going there since I was 3. It’s a nice safe place and there’s more families that go there now than anyone else and it’s bizarre to have that psychopath do that on a nice, beautiful night.”
Leehey, a father of three sons, worked for more than three decades in the land planning and design industry. As a principal urban planner, he helped develop the Ladera Ranch community in south Orange County, according to his LinkedIn.
Leehey was a sports fan — rooting for the Chargers and Clippers — and spent his free time playing golf, according to a biography on the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo website, where Leehey got his bachelor’s degree.
He was also a “blues and folk guitar enthusiast, backed up by a mean harmonica” and loved “rocking out in his garage studio with his sons and friends,” the bio states.
Leehey loved to sing and play the harmonica, his friend and former colleague Eric Zuziak said.
Sometimes, he would play the guitar for his co-workers at the Costa Mesa architecture and urban design firm JZMK Partners, where he worked for five years before leaving in October to start his own company.
Leehey’s career took him all over the world. He visited North Africa, China and Saudi Arabia, Zuziak said.
“He was very passionate about his work. He loved designing great communities with a high level of energy,” Zuziak said. “He was just a decent human being.”
Providence Mission Hospital said three of the six patients it treated have been released. A fourth patient, a man who was shot in the arm, had surgery Thursday and is stable. A fifth patient, a man who had been shot in the chest, remained in critical condition Friday.
Snowling, who was initially treated at Providence Mission Hospital Wednesday before being transferred to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, was “conscious and speaking,” Barnes said Thursday.
Locals who have frequented Cook’s Corner for years continue to struggle with processing the tragedy.
Douglas Mariani, 62, an Anaheim Hills resident, has been hanging out at Cook’s Corner once or twice a month for spaghetti night since he moved to California from Long Island, N.Y., more than a decade ago.
Mariani typically stops at the watering hole, which has been popular among bikers for decades, after riding a loop near Trabuco Canyon with his friends. A sea of chrome parked outside the restaurant greets diners, but residents know the spot as a family-friendly place to grab an inexpensive dinner and take in some live music.
Mariani described the staff and the owner of Cook’s as “very nice” people who “have to deal with a lot of pressure, but nothing ever violent.”
“This has come to a surprise to a lot of us. We all meet up there and we all get along,” he said. “Families bring their kids there, especially on Wednesday nights. We’re all senior citizens so we try to relive our youth.”