Gun­man kills 12 peo­ple, him­self at nightspot

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page -

Some of the pa­trons had sur­vived last year ’s mas­sacre at a Las Ve­gas coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val.

THOU­SAND OAKS, Calif. — A gun­man fir­ing seem­ingly at ran­dom killed a dozen peo­ple in­side a crowded coun­try mu­sic bar here 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 had also sur­vived that mas­sacre.

Po­lice said Long, wear­ing a black sweater and wield­ing a .45cal­iber 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 tonight, 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 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 in­ci­dent just min­utes af­ter 911 calls be­gan flood­ing in, au­thor­i­ties said.

Helus and a Cal­i­for­nia 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.”

The car­nage added Thou­sand Oaks to the seem­ingly end­less list of Amer­i­can cities to ex­pe­ri­ence a mass shoot­ing. This vi­o­lence came just days af­ter 11 peo­ple were gunned down in a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue, months af­ter 17 stu­dents and staff 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 slaugh­ter 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 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 on Satur­day in response to the “ter­ri­ble act of vi­o­lence per­pe­trated in Thou­sand Oaks.”

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 last 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 cen­ter hud­dled to­gether. The teen cen­ter had be­come a de facto stag­ing ground for rel­a­tives be­cause au­thor­i­ties were no­ti­fy­ing fam­i­lies and close friends there about vic­tims. Fam­i­lies could be seen cry­ing and hug­ging each other; 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.

The Marine Corps said Long served be­tween Au­gust 2008 and March 2013. He served as 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.

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 events in­clud­ing traf­fic ac­ci­dents. In April, deputies were called 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 the 28-year-old’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 mu­sic — but said he never saw any signs of men­tal-health is­sues.

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 a ri­fle.

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 19year-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 po­lice 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.

The shoot­ing un­folded a lit­tle more than a year af­ter a lone gun­man opened fire from the 32nd floor of Man­dalay Bay Re­sort and Casino in Las Ve­gas, killing 58 peo­ple. The Suther­land Springs church mas­sacre that killed 26 peo­ple fol­lowed just weeks later.

Many of those at the Las Ve­gas fes­ti­val last year had come 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.”

The Border­line Bar de­scribes it­self as Ven­tura County’s largest coun­try dance hall and live mu­sic venue. With a dance floor cov­er­ing about 2,500 square feet, it is open un­til 2 a.m. five days a week. Au­thor­i­ties said more than 100 were in­side at the time of the shoot­ing. Scores of col­leges lie within a 20-mile ra­dius of the bar, in­clud­ing Pep­per­dine Univer­sity, Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity at Chan­nel Is­lands, Moor­park Col­lege and Cal­i­for­nia Lutheran Univer­sity, which has its own line dance club.

Pep­per­dine of­fi­cials said that mul­ti­ple stu­dents from the school were at the bar dur­ing the shoot­ing. Cal­i­for­nia Lutheran can­celed classes “given the tragedy and un­cer­tain­ties.”

While of­fi­cials haven’t re­leased the names and ages of those killed and in­jured, the com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors — a bar near col­leges on a week­night — sug­gested that many are likely in their late teens and 20s.

Matt Wen­ner­strom, a reg­u­lar at the bar, told re­porters he saw the gun­man open fire on em­ploy­ees work­ing at the front of the bar.

“At that point I grabbed as many peo­ple around me as I could and pulled them down un­der­neath the pool ta­ble that we were clos­est to un­til he ran out of bul­lets for that mag­a­zine and had to reload,” he told ABC.

Dur­ing the pause, Wen­ner­strom, 20, said he and oth­ers threw bar stools through a win­dow and helped peo­ple es­cape. He told ABC he was able to push “30 or 35 peo­ple through that win­dow.”

Rochelle Ham­mons, 24, told the Post that she heard four shots be­fore she was able to flee.

“Ev­ery­one got down on the floor,” she said. “Ev­ery­one ducked and cov­ered each other. As ev­ery­one crouched down on the floor, I fig­ured that my only chance would be to run out to the near­est exit. I saw the near­est exit, and I ran out as fast as I could.”

RMG News via As­so­ci­ated Press

A vic­tim is treated near the scene of the shoot­ing Wed­nes­day in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif. In ad­di­tion to those killed, be­tween eight and 15 peo­ple were in­jured.

Au­thor­i­ties said the mo­tive of Ian David Long is un­clear.The gun­man wielded a .45cal­iber Glock hand­gun with an ex­tended mag­a­zine.

KABC via As­so­ci­ated Press

Po­lice block roads near the shoot­ing in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif. Au­thor­i­ties said more than 100 peo­ple were in­side dur­ing the shoot­ing.

Sher­iff’s Sgt. Ron Helus was killed af­ter fir­ing at the gun­man.

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