Survivor describes 'war zone' inside Cook's Corner; mass shooting victims identified

People attend a prayer vigil Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, in Lake Forest, Calif., for victims of the shootings Wednesday at Cook's Corner in Trabuco Canyon. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
People attend a prayer vigil Friday in Lake Forest for victims of the shootings Wednesday at Cook's Corner in Trabuco Canyon. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

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 to death by Orange County sheriff's deputies, three bar patrons would be left dead and six wounded. 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.

Read more: Ex-cop hunted down wife in Cook's Corner shooting. 'Not a discussion, dialogue or argument'

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 a woman she was dining with, later identified as Clark. He then took aim at other patrons in the 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.

Guidus was hiding with other people who started screaming that the gunman was coming up the other side of Cook’s Corner. The father yelled for everyone to keep calm and to stop drawing attention to their hideout.

A person in a Cook's hat and wearing pink nail polish hugs a person in a dark shirt.
Kikila Bumanglag, right, hugs an unidentified Cook's Corner's employee during a prayer vigil Friday at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest in honor of the victims of Wednesday's shootings at Cook's Corner. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

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.

Read more: Gunman's wife targeted in Cook's Corner mass shooting a 'sweetheart,' friends say

“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.”

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, less than three miles from Cook's Corner, said a public prayer would be held Friday night to honor those who were killed.

Sprowl worked at a coolant company and was a father of three. His youngest child is 7, according to a family member who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity.

The family member said she heard from people at the scene that Sprowl tried to confront the gunman before he was shot.

"What he did was he was trying to stop it. That's what he does," she said. "He's a dad and a great man, and he’s going to be missed."

Read more: One minute they were onstage at Cook's Corner playing 'Rhiannon.' Then came a hail of gunfire

Clark, a mother of two sons and a daughter, was celebrating her 49th birthday at Cook's Corner when the shooting started.

She was probably a "friend of a friend" of Marie Snowling's, said her son Taran Clark, who said she had moved to California with his younger brother about three years ago during the pandemic.

“She definitely really loved her family,” Taran Clark said. “She was a family-oriented woman and went to church. She was pretty happy with her boyfriend. She’s a California woman, and she always wanted to go there. She seemed like she was happy.”

Taran Clark, who lives in Oregon, found out Thursday afternoon that his mother was one of the victims of the shooting. He said his grandparents are heading to California to retrieve his mother’s belongings and bring his brother back with them to Kansas, where Tonya Clark grew up.

People hold lighted candles as they join in a prayer vigil in the dark
People hold lighted candles as they join in a prayer vigil Friday at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest for the victims of Wednesday's shootings at Cook's Corner in Trabuco Canyon. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

“She was very sweet and very loving,” Taran Clark said. “I’m devastated. When my little brother called me, I didn’t think it was going to be this extreme. I’m still trying to process it.”

Taylor Cordell, Clark's 29-year-old daughter, said her mother was a “very loving, passionate” person who loved fashion, art, music and the beach.

“She loved summertime,” said Cordell, who lives in Kansas City. “She loved her kids.”

Cordell recently spoke with her mother's boyfriend of three years, who was devastated by Clark's death. Cordell said the two were having a "good time" celebrating her mother's birthday when they went out to dinner at Cook's Corner.

“I asked myself every minute, 'Why her?' I don’t understand why it had to be my mom,” she said. “There’s nothing more to say other than I’m devastated and I have to stay strong for my family and my daughter.”

Read more: What we know about Cook's Corner mass shooter John Snowling

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."

Read more: Cook's Corner patrons stunned by mass shooting: 'It’s a tragedy'

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.

Marie 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.

Read more: Photos: Scenes from the deadly Orange County bar shooting

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 as 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."

Times staff writer Terry Castleman contributed to this report.

Sign up for Essential California, your daily guide to news, views and life in the Golden State.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.