Gun­man in black takes 12 lives at Cal­i­for­nia night­club

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - 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 F

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-yearold 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.

‘THAT EX-MARINE’

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.

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.”

AP/MARK J. TERRILL

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.”

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