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.

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