THOUSAND OAKS, CA — A hooded gunman dressed in black reportedly tossed smoke bombs into a Thousand Oaks country dance bar and opened fire, killing 12 people, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who died trying to stop the shooter. The lone shooter, identified by authorities as 28-year-old Ian David Long of Newbury Park, then turned the gun on himself.
The “horrific” mass shooting happened just before 11:30 p.m. at the Borderline Bar & Grill, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean told reporters.
Witnesses told TV reporters the shooter first shot at someone working the door, then began firing at people at random inside. A highway patrol officer and Helus entered the building about three minutes after gunfire erupted.
“Upon going through the front door, the sheriff’s sergeant was struck multiple times with gunfire,” said Dean.
The patrol officer managed to pull Helus away from the gunfire and secured the perimeter until backup could arrive. The sergeant later died at a hospital. He was on a phone call with his wife and told her he loved her before running into the bar, added Dean.
“He said, ‘Hon, I got to go. I love you. I gotta go on a call,'” Dean told reporters.
Multiple law enforcement agencies descended upon the bar, located off U.S. Route 101 about 35 miles west of Los Angeles. Hundreds fled, with some breaking windows with barstools to escape the bar, which which was hosting a weekly “college night” event, The Associated Press reported. The bar had been in business for about 25 years, according to its website.
In addition to the 13 dead inside the bar, more than 20 other people were found suffering from various injuries and had to be rushed to local hospitals, according to county officials. Those who were injured have been treated and released. Long’s body was found in an office inside the building, according to Dean.
“It’s a horrific scene in there. There’s blood everywhere,” Dean said.
Dean said the gunman used a .45-caliber Glock handgun with an extended magazine. Officials do not know if Long reloaded the gun during the incident and do not know how many rounds were in the weapon.
Authorities didn’t speculate on a motive and said they believe the shooting was “random.”
“We have no idea whether there is a terrorism link or not,” said Dean. He added that the latest mass shooting is part of horrors that are happening across the country.
“I think it’s impossible to put any logic or any sense to the senseless,” he said.
According to neighbors, Long, a Marine Corps veteran, lived with his elderly mother and was known to have bouts of rage, even kicking holes in the home’s walls. He posted on a military forum about his frustration with military, explaining he was leaving the service because he didn’t like being ordered around by people less educated than he. Dean said Long was known to law enforcement, with the most recent contact at his home in April, prompting a response from the crisis team. Dean said authorities will be searching Long’s home and computer.
Tayler Whitler, 19, told KABC-TV she was on the dance floor when gunfire erupted. People screamed “get down.”
“It was really, really, really shocking,” Whitler told the station in the parking lot. “It looked like he knew what he was doing.”
Sarah Rose DeSon told ABC’s “Good Morning America” she saw the shooter pull a gun.
“I dropped to the floor,” she said. “A friend yelled ‘Everybody down!’ We were hiding behind tables trying to keep ourselves covered.”
Holden Harrah, 21, told The Los Angeles Times he was on the side of the stage when a bearded man wearing a black hat, glasses and black shirt walked through the front door.
“He just pulled out a gun and shot my friend that was working the front desk,” said Harrah.
The bar was a popular hangout for country music fans, and some patrons Wednesday night had survived another mass murder, last year’s Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 58 people.
Helus, the 54-year-old deputy killed trying to stop the gunman Wednesday, had been on the force for 29 years and planned to retire in the coming year, said Dean.
“Ron was a hardworking, dedicated sheriff’s sergeant who was totally committed,” Dean added, “and tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero because he went in to save lives.”
According to the slain sergeant’s bio on Facebook, he studied at the University of Oklahoma and was the owner and founder of a business that provides firearms training, Gun Control: Firearms Training and CCW Instruction. The native of West Hills, California, joined the sheriff’s office in August 2009 and was a supervisor.
“We have the most amazing people in this community,” Mayor Pro Tem Rob McCoy said during an interview at the scene with NBC 4 News. “It is a precious place to live, that this would be thrust upon us is evil. I learned from a wise minister about the ministry of presence. If you know someone who is hurting, just give a hug and be there. The longer these people wait for nearest the more desperate it becomes.”
Friends and family have taken to social media looking for loved ones who were inside the building at the time of the shooting. A Family Assistance Center has been set up at 1375 E. Janss Road and county officials have established an Emergency Information Hotline for those looking for those missing: 1-805-465-6650. The Red Cross is available at the scene for families in need of support.
It’s a gut-wrenching scene where friends and family members search for missing loved ones, fearing the worst.
Adam Housley, a national correspondent, arrived at the nearby Los Robles Regional Medical Center around 3:30 a.m. searching for his niece, an 18-year-old college freshman at Pepperdine who he’d been with at the bar. He told the Los Angeles Times, her Apple Watch and iPhone showed she was still on the dance floor, he said.
“My gut is saying she’s inside the bar, dead,” he told the newspaper. “I’m hoping I’m wrong…You just don’t think that — same stupid quote — you just don’t think it’s going to happen to you.”
Housley and other family victims hadn’t been allowed inside the hospital, which they were told was on lockdown while doctors worked to treat the gunshot victims. Hours later, their worst fears were confirmed. Alaina Housely, an 18-year-old freshman at Pepperdine University died at the scene.
Gov. Jerry Brown released a statement about the tragic shooting.
“Our hearts ache today for the victims of this heinous act and our deepest condolences are with the Thousand Oaks community and those who lost friends and loved ones. We are grateful for law enforcement and others including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who took action to save lives last night.”
President Donald Trump tweeted he has been fully briefed on the “terrible shooting.”
California Lutheran University and several roads surrounding the building are closed due to the investigation, according to the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill