US city mourns in wake of bar massacre
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The mourners gathered to hold hands, to sing and to wonder how one of the safest cities in America could become a killing zone.
Hundreds of people gathered Thursday evening to remember the dozen people shot and killed by a Marine veteran at the packed Borderline Bar & Grill the night before.
It was a scene of horror enacted in many places around the country in recent months, but never before in Thousand Oaks.
Terrified patrons who had gathered for the weekly line dancing and college night hurled barstools through windows to escape or threw their bodies protectively on top of friends as shots erupted. Twelve people were killed including Ventura County sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran nearing retirement who responded to reports of shots fired and was gunned down as he entered the bar.
He and other first responders "ran toward danger," Sheriff Geoff Dean said at the vigil.
"When I told her (his wife) that we had lost her hero, I said to her: 'Because of Ron, many lives were saved,'" Dean said. "And she looked at me through her tears and she said: 'He would have wanted it that way.'"
The dead also included a man who had survived last year's massacre in Las Vegas, Telemachus Orfanos, 22.
"I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts," his mother, Susan Schmidt Orfanos, said earlier. "I want those bastards in Congress — they need to pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn't come home."
Dani Merrill also attended the 2017 Las Vegas country music festival where a gunman in a high-rise hotel opened fire and killed 58 people. She was appalled that such bloodshed had come to her community.
"I'm super upset that it happened in our home and I feel awful for the families that have to go through this," Merrill said at the vigil. She escaped from the Borderline bar when the shooting began, hurting her knee as she ran onto a loading dock.
The city of about 130,000 people about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Los Angeles, just across the county line, is annually listed as one of the safest cities in America.
"Hope has sustained communities, very much like Thousand Oaks, through the exact same triages of mass shootings," said Andy Fox, the city's outgoing mayor. "Tonight Thousand Oaks takes its place with those cities, who in order to move forward will rely on hope. We are Thousand Oaks strong."
The motive for the attack was under investigation.