THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- A gunman firing seemingly at random killed a dozen people inside a crowded country-music bar in California late Wednesday, authorities said, a toll that included a sheriff's deputy who had raced inside to confront the attacker.
Authorities said the gunman -- identified as Ian David Long, a 28-year-old Marine veteran who was cleared by a mental-health specialist after an encounter with police earlier this year -- was found dead inside after apparently killing himself. Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Thursday morning that investigators have not been able to determine a motive.
The bloodshed spread throughout the Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular nightspot in Thousand Oaks, a city near Los Angeles. When the gunfire began, people were line dancing during the venue's "College Country Night," witnesses said. That detail evoked the massacre of 58 people at a country-music festival in Las Vegas a little more than a year earlier -- a connection deepened when some of those who escaped Borderline said they also had survived that massacre.
Police said Long, wearing a black sweater and wielding a .45-caliber Glock handgun with an extended magazine, approached the bar and shot a security guard standing outside. He then headed in and shot other employees before turning his fire on patrons, Dean said.
"It's a horrific scene in there," Dean, who is set to retire today, told reporters. "There's blood everywhere."
The gunfire set off a panic, as patrons grimly familiar with stories of shooting rampages at churches, schools, movie theaters, offices and other locations across the country scrambled for safety and shelter.
"They ran out of back doors, they broke windows, they went through windows, they hid up in the attic, they hid in the bathroom," Dean said. "Unfortunately, our young people, people at nightclubs, have learned that this may happen. They think about that. Fortunately, it probably saved a lot of lives that they fled the scene so rapidly."
Benjamin Ginsburg, 23, said he hid under a table and then, hearing gunfire from the front, ran with other people toward the rear exits. Teylor Whittler, 19, said a man named Ethan "picked me up because I kept getting ... trampled," carrying her out the back door and saving her life. She said many people then hid behind bushes, in their cars or underneath the vehicles in the parking lot.
Among the dead was Ron Helus, a veteran sergeant in the Ventura County sheriff's office who was mortally wounded when he responded to the club just minutes after 911 calls began flooding in, authorities said.
Helus and a highway patrol officer headed into the club and exchanged fire with the attacker, Dean said. Helus, a 29-year veteran of the force with a grown son, had been on the phone with his wife when he got the call about the shooting and headed to the club, Dean said. During the shootout, he was struck several times.
"He died a hero," Dean said, his voice cracking, "because he went in to save lives."
CLUBS, CHURCHES, SCHOOLS
The violence came just days after 11 people were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue, months after 17 students and staff members were massacred in a Parkland, Fla., high school and a year after rampages in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, killed a combined 84 people.
The latest attack carried echoes and reminders of others. The descriptions of chaos inside the club were similar to those reported during the shooting of 49 clubgoers at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016; the rampage in California occurred about 100 miles away from a community center where 14 people were killed during a 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
Dean alluded to these earlier attacks, saying the carnage in Borderline "is part of the horrors that are happening in our country and everywhere, and I think it's impossible to put any logic or any sense to the senseless."
When asked by a reporter what it looked like inside the venue, Dean responded: "Like hell."
California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement that "our hearts ache today for the victims of this heinous act" and thanked Helus and other law enforcement officials "who took heroic action to save lives." President Donald Trump ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset Saturday in response to the "terrible act of violence perpetrated in Thousand Oaks."
Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, in his first public appearance since winning office on Tuesday, lamented the violence that has again visited California.
"It's a gun culture," he said. "You can't go to a bar or nightclub? You can't go to church or synagogue? It's insane is the only way to describe it. The normalization, that's the only way I can describe it. It's become normalized."
In addition to those slain at the club, Dean said he believed between eight and 15 other people were injured, mostly with cuts from diving under tables and jumping through windows. One person had a minor gunshot injury, he said.
Cody Coffman, a 22-year-old who had been talking to recruiters about fulfilling his dream of joining the Army, was among those killed, his father said Thursday morning.
"I am speechless and heartbroken," Jason Coffman said outside the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, where families were gathering in the wake of the attack.
Coffman, at times so overwhelmed he could not speak, leaned on his father-in-law to steady himself. He said he last saw his son as the younger man was heading out Wednesday night.
"The last thing I said was, 'Son, I love you,'" he said.
Sarah Deson, 19, said Cody Coffman stood in front of her as the shooter approached from the front entrance. Coffman yelled for everyone to get down and told her to run for the front door as the shooter moved farther into the bar, she said.
"Cody saved so many people last night, he was shielding people and getting them out," she said.
A group of more than a dozen people walked out of one building at the teen center huddled together. The teen center had become an unofficial staging ground for relatives because authorities were notifying families and close friends there about victims. Families could be seen crying and hugging; outside, a man with a hoodie pulled up over his head sat on the curb while another man sat nearby and placed a hand on his shoulder.
What could have motivated the attack remained a mystery to authorities, Dean said.
"There's no indication that he targeted the employees. We haven't found any correlation," the sheriff said. "Maybe there was a motive for this particular night, but we have no information leading to that at all."
The Marine Corps said Long served between August 2008 and March 2013. He was a machine-gunner in Afghanistan from November 2010 to June 2011 and became a corporal two months later. California State University Northridge said Long was a former student there who last attended in 2016. Court records show he married in 2009 and was divorced in 2013.
Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, tweeted on Thursday his condolences and pointedly referred to Long as "that ex-Marine" in his message.
Dean said Long lived in Newbury Park, Calif., a town near Thousand Oaks. Police have had "several contacts" with Long over the years, Dean said, most of them for minor incidents including traffic accidents. In April, deputies went to Long's home for a disturbance call, Dean said.
"They went to the house, they talked to him," he said. "He was somewhat irate, acting a little irrationally. They called out our crisis-intervention team, our mental-health specialist, who met with him, talked to him and cleared him."
Part of the discussion among those responding to Long's home was that "he might be suffering from PTSD," Dean said, pointing to Long's military service. But "the mental-health experts out there cleared him that day," Dean continued, and no involuntary holds were placed on Long.
The gun used in the bar massacre appeared to have been purchased legally, Dean said.
Relatives of Long could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. A former roommate described Long as "quiet, really really quiet" and prone to unusual behavior -- like dancing alone in the garage to trance, electronic rave-scene, music -- but said he never saw any signs of mental-health problems.
Neighbors of the home where Long lived with his mother recalled the police visit in April. Richard Berge, who lived around the corner, said he saw police cars blocking the street and saw officers standing across the street with rifles.
Carol Richardson, who lives a few houses down from the Longs, said she heard yelling and banging before the police arrived in April. After Wednesday night's shooting, she said, her son texted her saying: "I bet it was that guy." She said there were other incidents involving Long. Her 19-year-old daughter, Morgan, said: "We always knew he had problems."
Reports of a shooting first came in about 11:20 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, and authorities arrived on the scene at 11:22 p.m., Dean said. After Helus was struck, the highway patrol officer secured the perimeter, Dean said.
Six off-duty officers from other agencies were inside, Dean said. He said the parent of one person who was there told him the officers stood in front of her daughter to protect her.
Witnesses reported seeing smoke, but it was unclear if those were from smoke bombs, Dean said.
Thousand Oaks is an upper middle class suburb of Los Angeles popular with law enforcement officers and military veterans. Many residents are drawn by its relatively affordable housing, with sprawling ranch houses tucked into subdivisions and cul-de-sacs.
A conservative community, residents pride themselves on safety. In 2017, the Ventura County sheriff's office handled just five killings in its jurisdiction, which covers thousands of miles, though it excludes some cities, including Ventura.
The shooting unfolded a little more than a year after a lone gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
Many of those at the Las Vegas festival last year were from California, and some at the venue in Thousand Oaks also said they survived that earlier attack. Chandler Gunn, 23, told the Los Angeles Times that when he heard about the shooting, he called a friend who works at the bar and was also at the Route 91 Harvest Festival targeted in Las Vegas a year earlier.
"A lot of people in the Route 91 situation go here," Gunn told the newspaper after the Thousand Oaks shooting. "There's people that live a whole lifetime without seeing this, and then there's people that have seen it twice."
Information for this article was contributed by Katie Zezima, Mark Berman, Lindsey Bever, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Rob Kuznia, Tony Biasotti, Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Jennifer Jenkins, Katie Mettler, William Wan, Allyson Chiu, Antonia Noori Farzan, Meagan Flynn, Kyle Swenson, Fred Barbash, Alex Horton, Amar Nadir and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post; by Jose A. Del Real, Jennifer Medina and Matthew Haag of The New York Times; and by Krysta Fauria, Jonathan J. Cooper, Andrew Dalton, Amanda Lee Myers, John Antczak, Brian Melley, Michelle A. Monroe and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press.
An FBI agent talks to a woman early Thursday near the country-music bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman opened fire as people line-danced on “College Country Night.”
Brendan Kelly of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who was at the bar during the shooting, displays a tattoo Thursday that he got after also surviving the October 2017 shooting at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival. Others at the California bar also survived the Las Vegas attack.
A Section on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: Gunman in black takes 12 lives at California bar